Monthly Archives: December 2011

REVENGE OF THE WRITERS: Best & Worst of 2011 (Pt. 1)

In which the folks who work in the trenches get in the last word. Hey,
nothing’s stopping you from doing your own list, so don’t bother complaining!

 

BY THE BLURT CRÜE

 

As part of our ongoing year-end wrap-up – go here to view BLURT’s Top 50
Albums of 2011, and here to read an interview with our Artist of the Year – we
now yield the podium to the staffers and writers and their personal picks for
2011. We think we have a pretty diverse and lively crew here at the BLURT ward
(it helps that we ply them hourly with tequila and Oxycontin), and their
selections reflect a true music aficionado’s eclectic ideals. Guarantee: all
dialogue reported verbatim. (This story continues on the next page at Part 2.)

 

If you want to compare these lists with last year’s, check out our Top 50 of
2010,
or (if you dare) our Writers’ Picks
for 2010
.

 

2009 Best-Of coverage is here (Artists
Top Tens), here (Revenge of the Writers) and here (The
Blurt Top 50).

 

2008 Best-Of coverage is here and here.

 

Follow BLURT on Facebook and Twitter.

 

*****

 

 

LEE ZIMMERMAN

MIAMI, FL

BLURT CONTRIBUTING
EDITOR

lezim@bellsouth.net

 

Top 10 New Releases

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers – Gift Horse (Vanguard)
Fountains of Wayne
– Sky Full of Holes (Yep Roc)

Ron Sexsmith – Long Player Late Bloomer (Thirty Tigers)

Amos Lee – Mission Bell
(EMI)
Ken Will Morton – Contenders (Ghostmeat)

Various Artists — This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy
Clark (Music Road Records)
Will Sexton – Move the Balance (independent)
Avett Brothers – I And Love And You (American)

Middle Brother – S/T (Partisan)

Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong (ATO)

 

Top 10
Archival/Reissues

Beach Boys – Smile (Capitol)
Who – Quadrophenia (Universal)

Loudon Wainwright III – 40 Odd Years (Shout Factory)
Beau Brummels – Bradley’s Barn (Rhino)

Paul Kelly – The A-Z Recordings (Universal)
Various Artists – The Bridge
School Concerts (Warner
Bros.)
John Prine – The Singing Mailman (Oh Boy)

Various Artists – The Best of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
+ Museum Live (Time Life)

Mickey Newbury – The American Trilogy (Drag City)
Paul McCartney – McCartney and McCartney II (Capitol)

 

Music DVDs

Various Artists – Bridge
School Benefits (Warner
Bros.)

The Hollies – Look Through Any Window (Eagle)

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls (Eagle)

Neil Young – Here We Are in the Years (Sexy Intellectual)
The Grateful Dead – The Grateful Dead Movie (Shout Factory)

 

Music Book

Judy Collins – Sweet Judy Blue Eyes (Crown)

 

Concerts

Various artists – Cayamo Cruise 2011, Caribbean

Various artists — Orlando Calling, Orlando Florida
– Chris Isaak as the stand-out

Roger Daltrey – Hard Rock Live, Hollywood Florida
Various artists – Mariposa Folk Festival, Canada
Robert Plant & the Band of Joy, Hard Rock Live, Hollywood, Florida

 

Film

Cowboys and Aliens – With a title like that, who would have
thought
Super 8 – ET meets Close Encounters

Midnight in Paris
– Woody Allen’s best in years

The Descendents – gives me reason to like George Clooney
again

The Help- Heaven help you if you don’t dig this film

 

Best Record Label

Yep Roc – My pick for the second year in a row – given their
roster (Paul Weller, Nick Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock, Chuck Prophet et.al.), they’ve
got the hippest group of artists any label could ever hope for.

 

Best Music-related
Website

Blurt.com (of course)

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

Bert Jansch

 

Best New Artist
The Head and the Heart

 

Worst New Artist
Florence and
the Machine

 

Dumbest Band Name
Ditto – Florence
and the Machine

 

Sex Object of the
Year

Emmylou Harris – by consensus of most of my friends

 

Asshole of the Year

Kanye West – He can claim this title for life

 

Best Hair or Facial
Hair

Either Avett Brother (When they grow it out) – cited with a nod to my wife
Alisa who has a serious crush on both these boys

 

2012 Release I Am Most
Anticipating
Like last year, new Avett Brothers

 

Coolest Trend or
Whatever 
Freebies from the artists – be it free Daytrotter sessions, free live
recordings or whatever – artists’ willing ness to give back to their fans is
certainly admirable.

 

Most Fucked Up or
Annoying Trend or Whatever

Continuing emphasis away from physical discs and towards
downloads, streams, I-Tune exclusives etc. There’s nothing like music in a
physical form, replete with credits, artwork and track listings etc. Same
fucked up trend I railed about last year…

 

Favorite story or
review I wrote for BLURT (include URL)

Matthew Sweet “Sweet Success”

/features/view/990/

 

 

———————————————————————-

 

STEPHEN JUDGE

CARRBORO, NC

BLURT PUBLISHER &
CEO

stephen@secondmotionrecords.com

 

Top 10 New Releases (in reverse order)

Honorable mention – The Kills – Blood
Pressures (Domino) – another stellar album from The Kills, it amazes me that
these guys are not more critically acclaimed or popular as they constantly have
put out sold albums.

10 – Sloan – The Double Cross (Yep Roc) – another stellar album from Sloan too,
the first four tracks (Follow the Leader/The Answer Was You/Unkind and Shadow
of Love) are just pure power-pop bliss.

9 – The Latebirds – Last of the Good Ol’ Days (Second Motion) – yeah I can
immediately get canned here for mentioning an album on my own label. And if you
read on you may see more, but if you were to look at history of my 20+ years in
this business I have never played favorites in regards to picking albums that I
was involved with, worked on, etc. I have always been impartial and if the
record clearly hit me in a way alongside other albums then I give credit where
credit is due.  If you saw The Latebirds at our showcase and day party at
SXSW last year then you know what I mean. This band from Helsinki, Finland
really captures American roots music
at its core.  The disc itself is brilliant and then when you add in a
second disc of “Woodstock Sessions” that features Levon Helm, Kris
Kristofferson, David Rawlings and others, its a can’t miss album for anyone
that loves good ol American influenced rock and roll.

8 – R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now (Warner) – REM’s swan song is not as great as Accelerate but another stellar, under
appreciated great album from an incredible career.  I am a long time fan
and argue this record holds water to any of the “they haven’t done a great
album since Bill Berry left” bullshit. Maybe not a great “album” but damn good.
R.E.M. can be proud that they have ended on a high note.

7 – PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant) – I have not been crazy about PJ’s
last two albums but this one really hit me, it takes a few listens and then ‘pow’
it hits you like a rocket.  Proud to have her on the cover of Blurt #10.

6 – Joy Formidable – Big Roar (Canvasback/Atlantic) – saw these guys in NYC
when The Big Takeover‘s Jack Rabid
suggested I have to go see them as they were “one of the best live bands I’ve
seen in quote some time” whoa that was a big statement especially coming from
him.. and he was right.  I was immediately intoxicated with the band.
 The record is maybe a little too overproduced and misses some of the
energy of their live set but it’s still full of great pop songs.

5 – Wilco – The Whole Love (dBpm/Anti) – great record, much better than the
last two (although I still like Sky Blue
Sky
a lot) this is a return to form in a different direction, it seems as
if the band is started to gel and maybe collaborate more and it’s taking
positive effects.  The last track “One Sunday Morning” is worth buying the
entire album.  12 minutes of Wilco at their best.

4 – Twilight Singers – Dynamite Steps (Sub Pop) – although I was a huge Afghan
Whigs fan, I’ll admit coming late to the party for Twilight Singers.  This
is by far their best album yet and if you are not sure, just YouTube their
Letterman performance of “On the Corner” and you will be hooked.  

3 – Dexter Romweber Duo – Is That You In The Blue? (Bloodshot) – brother/sister
combo Dexter and Sara Romweber hit a home run with this one.  This record
struck me so much that I found myself going back for the first time in years
and re-listening to all of the old Flat Duo Jets albums.  Very underappreciated
record here and with all of the hype of bands like The Black Keys and Jack
White/White Stripes, its amazing to me that more people do not discover how
much of a genius Dexter truly is.  Hometown hero for me here in Carrboro, NC.

2 – Tommy Keene – Behind The Parade (Second Motion) – ok yeah yeah yeah. It’s
on my label but man, first time Tommy send me a copy of this album as it was
being mastered I just about fell out of my seat. Tommy has been writing
incredible pop songs for over thirty years and as just about every single
review or feature states with every album he does “why is this guy so
overlooked and underappreciated?” its a fact for sure and history tells us that
nothing is going to change this.. He has to be one of the most underappreciated
pop songwriters of our time. A lot of his records are good but never seem to be
just mind-blowing enough to get the general public to stand up and demand more
attention be paid to Tommy. (or at least since Songs From The Film, his 1986 masterpiece that is the only record
of his career to chart in the Billboard Top 200. #148).  But Behind The Parade is arguably his best
record ever, certainly holds water to anything else he has ever done and we
have found those who have bothered to listen to the album are equally blown
away.  It may not make a ton of Top Ten lists, but even if you are tired
as I am of the “power pop” typeset and stereotype and find that you don’t
always like the kind of bands in that category, you may love this album.
 If you start anywhere start here and then go backwards.  If you love
bands like Big Star, Guided By Voices, Paul Westerberg, The Kinks, Matthew
Sweet, etc then you must buy this album.. You will not be disappointed.  I
think the only reason I did not put it #1 was because it is on my label and I
don’t want people suggesting I am doing it for that reason only and it feels a
bit weird to do that. In fact I have never done that and this is the highest
I’ve ever praised a record of mine in 20+ years on my year-end ‘chart’. I have
never named a record I have been a part of to top off my list for the year. So
that should tell you something.  I love,  love this record.

1 – Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti) – I had heard from many that this was a good
Tom Waits album, let’s face it not all of them are but when he’s on, boy is he
on. I was in Chicago
record store shopping one lovely evening with friends and the store owner put
this on. It was a beautiful fall day, perfect weather and hanging with friends,
talking music to cool stores in Chicago
and about to go out and get drinks.  Can’t ask for a better setting.
 After having a challenging personal year in 2011, this is exactly what I
needed.. The owner says he will put it on so I can hear it… Having no idea
what the name of the first song was. I hear the early lines “Everything will be
better in Chicago”: I just started laughing and
looked up and said “is the first song called Chicago?” and the owner of the store said
“yep” and I said “ha! Good job on that, SOLD!” And bought it right away. Since
then I have been on a feverish Tom Waits kick going back and listening to all
of his records.  We are lucky to have this man in our lives, one of the
best songwriters of our generation, period.

Top Reissues

 1- REM – Life’s Rich
Pageant (EMI) – incredible reissue, the b-side demos are amazing and worth the
price alone.

2 – Archers of loaf – Icky Mettle (Merge) – one of my
favorite albums of all time, just brilliance.

3- Rolling Stones – Some Girls (Universal) – and then
re-discovering how much I love the Stones!

 

——————————————————

 

JENNIFER KELLY

WALPOLE, NH

BLURT CONTRIBUTING
EDITOR

Jenkelly@sover.net

 

Top Ten New Releases

Skull Defekts —
Peer Amid (Thrill Jockey)

Psychic Paramount — II
(Important)

David Kilgour —
Left by Soft (Merge)

King Creosote and
Jon Hopkins — Diamond Mine (Domino)

Dirtbombs — Party
Store (In the Red)

Gem Club —
Breakers (Hardly Art)

Mogwai — Hard Core
Will Never Die But You Will (Sub Pop)

Sidi Toure — Sahel Folk (Thrill Jockey)

UV Race — Homo (In
the Red)

Bonnie Prince Billy
–Wolfroy Comes to Town (Drag
City)

 

Best Record Label

Thrill Jockey

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

Bert Jansch

 

Best New Artist

Gem Club

Veronica
Falls

 

Favorite story or
review I wrote for BLURT

Times New Viking “Giving 300%”

  /features/view/882/

 

——————————————————————

 

LIZ RUSSELL

CHICAGO, IL

BLURT ADVERTISING
MANAGER

liz@blurt-online.com

 

Top 10 New Releases

The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

Yuck – Yuck (Fat Possum)

Wild Flag – Wild Flag (Merge)

Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams (Sub Pop)

Disappears – Guider (Kranky)

Iceage – New Brigade (What’s Your Rapture)

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)

VA – Eccentric Soul The Nickel and Penny Labels (Numero
Group)

Cold Cave
– Cherish The Light Years (Matador)

Boston
Spaceships – Let it Beard (Guided By Voices)

 

Concerts

Disappears – Hideout Block Party, Chicago
Il

Crystal
Stilts – Empty Bottle, Chicago
IL

A Place to Bury Strangers –
Empty Bottle, Chicago
IL

Fresh and Onlys – Pitchfork, Chicago
IL

Edwyn Collins – SXSW, Austin TX

 

 

———————————————————————-

 

FRED MILLS

ASHEVILLE, NC

BLURT EDITOR &
ONLINE EDITOR

fmills@blurtonline.com

 

Top 10 New Releases

Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti-)

Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (Software)

Jason Isbell – Here We Rest (Lightning Rod)

Lykke Li -Wounded Rhymes (LL)

The Ettes – Wicked Will (Fond Object)

Warren Haynes – Man In Motion (Stax)

Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming (Daptone)

Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose (Oh Wow Dang)

Tommy Keene – Behind the Parade (Second Motion)

tUnE-yArDs – whokill (4AD)

 

Top Archival/Reissues

The Who – Quadrophenia: Director’s Cut (Universal)

Long Ryders – Native Sons: Deluxe Reissue (Prima)

Calexico – Road Atlas (Our Soil, Our Strength) (disclosure: I wrote the liner notes to this
12-LP box set, but in doing so it just reaffirmed my love of the band
)

Radio Birdman – Live in Texas (Career)

Tim Buckley – Time Buckley (Deluxe Edition) (Rhino Handmade)

Various Artists – Those Shocking Shaking Days
(Now-Again/Stone’s Throw)

Ride – Nowhere: 25th Anniversary Edition (Rhino
Handmade)

Giant Sand – Chore of Enchantment: 25th Anniversary Edition (Fire)

R.E.M. – Life’s Rich Pageant (I.R.S./Capitol)

Beach Boys – SMiLE (Capitol)

Rainer with Joey Burns and John Convertino – Roll Back the
Years (self-released)

Father’s Children – Who’s Gonna Save the World (Numero
Group)

Can – Tago Mago Deluxe (Mute)

 

Top Singles,
Tracks or Downloads

The Roots – Lyin’ Ass Bitch (for Michelle Bachmann, live on
Fallon)

Karen O/Trent Reznor – Immigrant Song (Null Corporation)

A Brokeheart Pro – Bullets Ain’t Brakes (self-released)

Black Keys – Lonely Boy (Nonesuch)

Lykke Li – Get Some (LL)

Grimes – Vanessa (Hippos in Tanks)

JC Brooks & the Uptown
Sound – I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (Bloodshot)

Vex Ruffin – I’m Creative (Stones Throw)

Lana Del Rey – Video Games (Stranger)

Mazzy Star – Common Burns (Rhymes of An Hour)

Joseph Arthur – We Stand As One (self-released, for Occupy
Movement)

 

Music DVDs

Primal Scream – Screamadelica Live (Eagle Rock)

Wild Man Fischer – Derailroaded: Inside the Mind of Larry
“Wild Man” Fischer (MVD)

Talking Heads – Chronology (Eagle Rock)

Jimi Hendrix – The Dick Cavett Show (Legacy)

Phil Ochs – There But for Fortune (First Run Features)

A Tribe Called Quest – Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels
of a Tribe Called Quest (Sony Pictures Classics)

U2 – From The Sky Down (Island;
part of the Achtung Baby box set)

 

Music Books

I Want My MTV
Craig Marks & Rob Tannenbaum (Dutton)

Fug You: An Informal History Of The Peace Eye Bookstore, The Fuck
You Press, The Fugs, And Counterculture In The Lower East
Side
– Ed Sanders (DaCapo
Press)

Ticketmasters: The
Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped
– Dean Budnick
& Josh Baron (ECW Press)

Love Goes To Buildings
On Fire
– Will Hermes (Faber & Faber)

Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Rob
Young (Faber and Faber)

The Resurrection Of
Johnny Cash:
Hurt, Redemption And American Recordings – Graeme Thomson (Jawbone Press)

Inside Scientology:
The Story of America’s
Most Secretive Religion
– Janet Reitman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Are We Still Rolling?
Studios, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll – One Man’s Journey Recording Classic Albums
– Phill Brown (Tape Op/Hal Leonard)

Keep On Pushing: Keep
On Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip-Hop
– Denise Sullivan (Lawrence Hill Books)

 

Music Videos

Beastie Boys – Make Some Noise

Trent Reznor/Karen O – Immigrant Song (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trailer/scene; directed by David
Fincher)

Grimes – Vanessa

tUnE-yArDs – Bizness

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Alabama Pines

The Ettes (w/Tom Scharpling and Patton Oswalt) – Excuse

Arrica Rose – Video Killed the Radio Star

Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose

Tommy Keene – Deep Six Saturday

Dengue Fever – Cement Slippers

 

Concerts

Moogfest – various venues, Asheville NC
(10-28/29/30-11)

Warren Haynes Christmas Jam – Civic Center, Asheville NC
(12-10-11)

The Ettes – Grey Eagle, Asheville NC
(9-2-11)

Bootsy Collins – Orange Peel, Asheville NC
(6-22-11)

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Bele Chere Festival, Asheville NC
(7-30-11)

Femi Kuti – Orange Peel, Asheville NC
(5-3-11)

 

Films

50/50

Moneyball

Contagion

Cowboys and Aliens

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II

 

Best Record Label

(multiple tie) Light In The Attic

Sony-Legacy

Rhino Handmade

Stones Throw/Now-Again

 

Best Music Related
Website

The Audio Perv

http://theaudioperv.com

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

Clarence Clemons (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band)

 

Best New Artist

Grimes

 

Worst New Artist

Foster the People (NOTE: this is not a reactionary vote
coming on the heels of the group’s massive success in 2011; way back in March I
saw the band in Austin and went on record as saying they were the worst band I
saw at SXSW, so I stand by my comments.)

 

Dumbest Band Name

Letting Up Despite Great Faults

 

Sex Object of the
Year

Lykke Li

 

Asshole of the Year

(tie) Tyler, the Creator (for his homophobia)

John Maus (for his attack on indie
record stores
)

 

2012 Release I Am
Most Anticipating

(tie) Jim White – Where It Hits You (Yep Roc)

A Brokeheart Pro – Josephine the Outlaw King (self-released)

 

Coolest Trend or Whatever

(tie) – Record Store Day + Black Friday (viva la vinyl, as
well as the celebration of physical releases; with any luck, these events are
helping to educate the next generation of music fans how important their local
mom ‘n’ pop indie store is to the community).

 – The arrival of
Spotify in the U.S. (streaming on demand is the future of music consumption, so the next thing we need is to convince
bands who resist placing their music with streaming services such as Spotify
and Rhapsody that such services are not the new Napster-like bogeyman, but a
legitimate and promising means of generating revenue and broadening your
fanbase).

– The BLURT editorial braintrust getting iPads!

 

 

Most Fucked Up or
Annoying Trend or Whatever

The accelerated fragmentation of the independent music
scene, what I call the “decentralization of indie.” It’s incredibly dismaying
to engage in a conversation with someone about music only to learn that they
haven’t heard of ¾ of the bands or artists you’ve been listening to – it’s like
the large-culture equivalent of everyone being isolated behind their earbuds
and their own personal playlists. Yet remember when iPods were still considered
novelties, and you’d read stories about people on subways exchanging earbuds in
order to check out what the other person was digging? We need the large-culture
equivalent of that. (All the niche-music blogs and websites ain’t helping the
situation.)

        Everyone does
and should have favorites, but the evolution of indie music requires an opening
up, not closing, of minds and attitudes. If I had a nickel for every
holier-than-thou Americana
purist who wouldn’t be caught dead at a DJ event, or every dance music hipster
who dismisses fiddles and twangy guitars as brainless hillbilly music… you get
my point. I thought of this while attending the second annual Moogfest in
October, where I was struck by the incredible diversity of sounds represented.
True, electronica was the core focus, but there was still something for
everyone over the course of the 3-day event (a phenomenon that’s also true at a
handful of the other festivals around the country, in particular Bonnaroo,
which has grown well beyond its early jamband-centric roots).

        Music should
be about dissolving barriers, not erecting them. But I fear that the current
trend of marginalizing one’s interests – perhaps, to be fair, in the interest
of one’s own sanity, given the steady barrage of input we are hit with on a
daily basis – may ultimately marginalize the musicians as well, leaving them performing
in front loyal but static audiences, possibly earning enough to subsist but not
really seeing much opportunity for growth. Translation: the ball’s in your court, music fans.

 

 

Favorite story or
review I wrote for BLURT

Jason Isbell – “Leap of Faith”

/features/view/855/

(Conducted to be a short Q&A sidebar to a review of
Isbell’s Here We Rest in the Spring
print edition of BLURT, the amount of “content,” as we say I the journalism
biz, that I collected from Isbell was massive – he was candid, and revealing,
and willing to go deep whether it meant discussing the new record, his early
roots in Alabama, or even his relationship with his old band, the Drive-By
Truckers. There was no way I was not going to get the entire conversation out
to our readers and to Isbell fans.)

 

 

————————————————————————

 

STEVEN ROSEN

CINCINNATI, OHIO

www.stevenrosenwriter.com

 

Top 10 New Releases

Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge)

The Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)

Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow (Anti-)

Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti-)

Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
(Constellation)

Nick Lowe – The Old Magic (Yep Roc)

Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty)

Garland Jeffreys – The King
of In Between (Luna
Park)

Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming (Daptone)

Wussy – Strawberry (Shake It)

 

Top 10
Archival/Reissues

Supreme Dicks – Breathing and Not Breathing (Jagjaguwar)

Loudon Wainwright – 40 Odd Years (Shout! Factory)

Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland, Ohio
(The Numero Group)

Human Switchboard – Who’s Landing in My Hangar? (Bar/None)

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls (Universal Republic)

Willie Wright – Telling the Truth (The Numero Group)

Mickey Newbury – An American Trilogy (Drag City)

Van Dyke Parks – Arrangements Volume 1 (Bananastan)

Tindersticks – Claire Denis Film Scores 1996-2009
(Constellation)

The Beach Boys – The SMiLE Sessions (Capitol)

 

Top 10 Singles,
Tracks or Downloads

Leonard Cohen – Show Me the Place (Columbia)

Foxy Shazam – I Like It (I.R.S.)

The Black Keys – Lonely Boy (Nonesuch)

Jens Lekman – An Argument With Myself (Secretly Canadian)

Charles Bradley – Heart of Gold (Daptone)

Mazzy Star – Common Burn (Rhymes of an Hour)

Cosmo Jarvis – Dave’s House (25th Frame)

Nikki Lane
– Gone, Gone, Gone (Iamsound)

Adele – Rolling in the Deep (Columbia)

Lou Reed & Metallica – Junior Dad (Warner Bros.)

 

Music DVDs

Rolling Stones – Some Girls Live in Texas ’78 (Eagle Vision)

Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
(Sony Pictures Classics)

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (HBO
television)

Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune (First Run Features)

Music Makes a City: An American Orchestra’s Untold Story
(Owsley Brown)

 

Music Books

Will Hermes – Love Goes to Buildings on Fire (Faber &
Faber)

Robert Greenfield – The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of
Ahmet Ertegun  (Simon & Schuster)

Dean Budnick and Josh Baron – Ticket Masters: The Rise of
the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped (ECW Press)

Dorian Lynskey – 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of
Protest Songs, From Billie Holiday to Green Day (Ecco)

Ellen Willis – Out of the Vinyl Deeps (University of Minnesota
Press)

 

Music Videos

Cosmo Jarvis – She Doesn’t Mind

 www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDSuxXijtZw

 

Concerts

Moogfest -Asheville,
N.C.

Ray Davies – The Vogue – Indianapolis,
Ind.

“She’s Got the Power”: Ponderosa Stomp and Lincoln Center
Presents the Girl Groups – Lincoln Center Out of Doors – New York City.

Eugene Chadbourne and Tatsuya Nakatoni – Southgate
House – Newport, Ky.

Olafur Arnalds – Southgate
House – Newport, Ky.

 

Films

The Tree of Life

Nostalgia for the Light

Like Crazy

The Descendants

Rubber

 

Best Record Label

The Numero Group

 

Best Music-related
Website

www.blurt-online.com

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

Howard Tate

 

2011 Release I Am
Most Anticipating

Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (Columbia)

 

Coolest Trend or
Whatever

New Music/Contemporary Classical is attracting people raised
on rock/pop, and is being presented in clubs and unusual venues that are an
alternative to the old-fashioned concert halls.

 

Most Fucked Up Trend

The number of bands or songs with “Fuck” in their name.

 

Favorite Story or
Review I Wrote for Blurt in 2011

Loudon Wainwright: “40 Odd… and Counting”

www.blurt-online.com/features/view/884/

 

 

————————————————————————

 

JASON GROSS
NEW YORK, NY
EDITOR/FOUNDER- PERFECT SOUND FOREVER

http://www.perfectsoundforever.com

Top 10 New Releases
M.I.A. – Vicki Leekx (vickileekx.com)

Wild Flag – Wild Flag (Merge)

British Sea Power – Valhalla
Dancehall (Rough Trade)

T-Model Ford and GravelRoad – Taledragger (Alive)

Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO (& other American stories) (Lost Highway)

Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (LL)

Chicharrons – Roots of Life (Tummy Touch)

tUnE-yArDs – Whokill (4AD)

Lupe Fiasco – Lasers (Atlantic)

The Limousines – Get Sharp (Orchard City)

Top 10 Archival/Reissues
Ray Charles – Singular Genius- The Complete ABC Singles (Concord)

Various Artists -Bossa Nova And The Rise Of Brazilian Music
In The 1960s (Soul Jazz)

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew Live (Sony Legacy)

Nick Lowe – Labour of Lust (Yep Roc)

Human Switchboard – Who’s Landing in my Hangar? (Bar/None)

Sir Douglas Quintet – The Mono Singles ’68-72 (Sundazed)

The Bats – Daddy’s Highway (Flying Nun)

Johnny Cash – Bootleg, Volume 2: From Memphis
to Hollywood
(Sony Legacy)

Jimi Hendrix – Hendrix in the West (Sony Legacy)

The Crystals – Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best Of The Crystals
(Phil Spector/Legacy)

Top 10 Singles, Tracks or Downloads
Doc Ish – “She Did It Again” (In Ya Head)

Hail Mary Mallon – “Meter Reader” (Rhymesayers)

Chiddy Bang “Rebel – ” (prettymuchamazing.com)

The Milk – “(All I Wanted Was) Danger” (Naim
Audio)

Zeds Dead – “1975” (Soundcloud)

Adele – “Rumour Has It” (Columbia)

Tapes ‘n Tapes – “Freak Out” (ibid)

Let’s Wrestle – “In Dreams Part II” (Merge)

Emika – “Save It” (Ninja Tune)

The Chain Gang of 1974 – “Devil is A Lady” (Modern
Art)

 

Music DVDs
Rolling Stones- Some Girls Live in Texas,
1978

Mott the Hoople- Ballad of Mott the Hoople

Talking Heads- Chronology Deluxe

Kinks- Kinks Kollekted

Sigur Ros/Inni

 

Music Books
Courtney E. Smith “Record Collecting For Girls” (Mariner
Books)

Bill Adler and Dan Charnas – “Def Jam
Recordings: The First 25 Years of The Last Great Record label” (Rizolli)

Ellen Willis “Out of the Vinyl Deeps” (University of Missouri
Press)

Jay-Z – “Decoded” (Spiegel & Grau)

Will Hermes – “Love Goes To Buildings On Fire” (Faber &
Faber)

 
Top 5 Concerts
Amon Tobin-
Brooklyn Masonic
Temple (New York, NY)

Pennsylvania Blues Festival
(Palmerton, PA)

Tom Ze at Alice Tully Hall (New York, NY)

Big Star- Baruch Performing Arts Center
(New York, NY)

Old 97’s at Royale (Boston,
MA)

 
Films
The Artist

Pina

Melancholia

The Ides of March

Even the Rain (Tambien La Lluvia)

 
Best Record Label

Nonesuch

Best Music-related Website

Immodestly yours… Perfect Sound Forever

http://www.perfectsoundforever.com

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

Steve Jobs (with all due respect to Amy Winehouse & Gil
Scott-Heron)

 

Best New Artist

Mazes

 

Worst New Artist

Skillrex

 

Dumbest Band Name

Tie: Gringo Star/Ringo Deathstarr – Starkey should sue ‘em
both

 

Sex Object of the
Year

Nikki Minaj

 

Asshole of the Year

Donald Trump

 

Best Hair or Facial
Hair

Rick Rubin

 

2012 Release I Am
Most Anticipating

Garbage’s next album

 

Coolest Trend or
Whatever

Another major label disappearing

 

Most Fucked Up or
Annoying Trend or Whatever

Quality publications drying up, disappearing and bleeding
themselves to death

 

Favorite story or
review I wrote for BLURT

“Where Were You on 9-11”

  /features/view/968

 

 

————————————————————————–

 

RON HART

RINGWOOD, NJ

 

Top 10 New Releases

Radiohead King of Limbs (tbd)

Paul Simon So Beautiful Or So What (Concord) 

Joe Lally Why Should I Get Used To It (Dischord)

Tom Waits Bad As Me (Anti-)

Anthrax Worship Music (Megaforce)

Bill Orcutt How The Thing Sings (Editions MEGO) 

Psychic Paramount II (No
Quarter)

PJ Harvey Let England Shake (Vagrant) 

The Roots Undun (Def Jam)

Crystal
Stilts In Love With Oblivion (Slumberland)

 

Top 10 Archival/Reissues

The Beach Boys SMiLE Sessions (EMI)

Pearl Jam Vs./Vitalogy Legacy Edition (Epic-Legacy)

Bitch Magnet Bitch Magnet (Temporary Residence, Ltd.)

Ride Nowhere: 20th Anniversary Edition (Rhino Handmade)

Lungfish The Unanimous Hour (Dischord)

The Smiths Complete (Rhino)

Throbbing Gristle The
Second Annual Report/D.O.A. The
Third & Final Report/Heathen
Earth/20 Jazz Funk Greats/Throbbing Gristle’s Greatest Hits
(Industrial Records)

Human Switchboard Who’s Landing In My Hangar: Anthology
1977-1984 (Bar-None)

MF Doom Operation: Doomsday (Lunchbox Edition) (Metal Face)

Beau Brummels Bradley’s Barn: Handmade Edition (Rhino
Handmade)

 

Top 10 Downloads

Fugazi Live Series

Frank
Ocean Nostalgia. Ultra.

Four Tet at Mister Sunday May 29, 2011

Swans Live at ATP Festival 2011

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 Live at ATP Festival 2011

Thom Yorke 6 Mix 2011-10-16

Clams Casino Instrumental Mixtape

Oddisee
Rock Creek
Park

Immortal Technique The Martyr

Flying Lotus Lovers Melt II

 

Music DVDS

Pearl Jam PJ20 (Columbia
Pictures)

Rolling Stones Some Girls Live in Texas ’78 (Eagle Rock)

Mark Kozelek On Tour: A Documentary (Caldo Verde)

X The Unheard Music (MVD Visual)

Fantomas The Director’s Cut Live: A New Years Revolution
(Ipecac)

 

Music Videos

Beastie Boys “Make Some Noise”

R.E.M. “Every Day Is Yours To Win”

Foo Fighters “Walk”

Superchunk “Crossed Wires”

Wild Flag “Romance”

 

Top 5 Most Underrated
Albums of 2011

Jack
Oblivian Rat
City (Big Legal Mess
Records)

Three Mountains Tres Mts (Monkeywrench)

C. Joynes Congo
(Bo Weavil)

Vladislav Delay Vladislav Delay Quartet (Honest Jons)

Gavin Friday Catholic (Rubyworks)

 

Films

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II

War Horse

Water for Elephants

Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

Bridesmaids

 

Best Record Label

Sacred Bones  

 

Best Music-related
Website

www.nyctaper.com

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

CLARENCE CLEMONS

 

Best New Artist

The Sweet Clementines         

 

Worst New Artist

Rebecca Black

 

Dumbest Band Name

Gauntlet Hair

 

Sex Object of the
Year

Kat Dennings

 

Asshole of the Year

The Republican Majority of the U.S. Congress

 

Best Hair or Facial
Hair

Danny Brown

 

2012 Release I Am Most
Anticipating

El-P Cancer for the Cure or the upcoming Rick Rubin-produced
Black Sabbath reunion LP

 

Coolest Trend or
Whatever

OccupyWall Street

 

Most Fucked Up or
Annoying Trend or Whatever

Voter ID Laws – in addition the music industry’s continuing
trend of force feeding digital downloads and streams to writers for review and
coverage consideration. Enough already!

 

Favorite story or
review you wrote for BLURT

Pearl Jam: “Choosing Their Own Destiny”

  /features/view/851/

 

 

————————————————————————-

 

JOHN SCHACHT

CHARLOTTE,
NC

EDITOR, SHUFFLE MAGAZINE

www.shufflezine.tv

 

Top 10 New Releases

Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams (Sub Pop)

Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust (Nonesuch)

Bobby – Bobby (Partisan)

Stephen Malkmus — Mirror Traffic (Matador)

Wilco – The Whole Love (dBpm)

Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon (Paradise
of Bachelors)

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse (Drag City)

David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights – Left by Soft (Merge)

Mount Moriah – Mount
Moriah (Holidays for
Quince)

Veronica Falls – Veronica
Falls (Slumberland)

 

Honorable Mentions

Grails – Deep Politics (Temporary Residence)

Eleanor Freidberger – Last Summer (Merge)

Veronica Falls – S/T (Slumberland)

Reigning Sound – Abdication…(Scion/AV)

John Howie Jr. & the Rosewood Bluff – Leavin’ Yesterday
(Hands Up!)

Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)

The Roots – Undun (Def Jam)

Chelsea Wolfe – Apokalypsis (Pendu Sound)

Yardwork – Brotherer (Lunchbox)

Mikal Cronin – S/T (Trouble In Mind)

Maggie Bjorklund – Coming Home (Bloodshot)

Yuck – Yuck (Fat Possum)

Andy the Doorbum – The Man Killed the Bird, and with the
Bird the Song, and with the Song, Himself (Slanty Shanty)

Joe Henry – Reverie (Anti-)_

Memphis
– Here Comes a City (Arts & Crafts)

DevotchKa – 100 Lovers (Anti-)

Braveyoung – We Are Lonely Animals (The End)

Mike Adams at His Honest Weight – Oscillate Wisely (St.
Ives/Flannelgraph)

Booker T. Jones – The Road From Memphis

Howe Gelb – Allegrias (Eureka)

Antlers – Burst Apart (Frenchkiss)

Brontosaurus – Cold Comes to Claim (Plus Tapes)

Siskiyou – Keep Away the Dead (Constellation)

Ralfe Band – Bunny and the Bull soundtrack (Ghost Ship)

 

Top 10 Singles,
Tracks or Downloads

“Son of Pomegranate” – Yardwork/Brotherer (Lunchbox): http://yardwork.bandcamp.com/track/son-of-pomegranate

“Coming Down” – Dum Dum Girls/Only in Dreams (SubPop)

“Country Clutter” – Dolorean/The Unfazed (Partisan)

“Drover” – Bill Callahan/Apocalypse (Drag City)

“The Anchor Song – Maggie Bjorklund w/ Rachel Flotard/Coming
Home (Bloodshot)

“I Follow Rivers” – Lykke Li/Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)

“Medicamentum” – Andy the Doorbum/7” single (Kinnikinnik) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWK1CP78Hy8

“Fondre” – Marianne Dissard/L’Abandon (Trop Expres Music)

“I Want the Lights On After Dark” – Memphis/Here Comes a
City (Arts & Crafts)

“A Little Lost” – Nat Baldwin/People
Changes (Western Vinyl)

 

Favorite story or
review I wrote for BLURT

Marianne Dissard: Under the Tucson Sun

/features/view/813/

(Besides being a charming and erudite interview partner,
Mme. Dissard wound up my favorite profile of the year because of our discussion
of the Tucson
scene in the aftermath of the Gabriel Giffords shooting that took place a few
months prior. Hearing Dissard, in that rich French accent, describe how the
music/arts community came together afterward was more than heartening, and
reminded me again how important music is to our lives.)

 

 

——————————————————————————

 

HAL BIENSTOCK

BROOKLYN, NY

 

Top 10 New Releases
& Honorable Mentions

Wilco – The Whole Love (dBpm/Anti)

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Here We Rest (Lightning
Rod)

The Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)

Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti)

Bon Iver (Jagjaguar)

Girls – Father Son Holy Ghost (True Panther)

Drive By Truckers – Go Go Boots (ATO)

Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams (Sub Pop)

My Morning Jacket – Circuital (ATO)

tUnE-yArDs   – Whokill
(4AD)

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing (Sub Pop)

The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck (Merge)

TV On the Radio – Nine Types of Light (Interscope)

Yuck (Fat Possum)

Warren Haynes – Man in Motion (Stax)

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – From Africa
With Fury: Rise (Knitting Factory)

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador)

 

Top 10
Archival/Reissues & Honorable Mentions

Derek & the Dominoes – Layla: 40th Anniversary Edition
(Polydor)

Rolling Stones – Some Girls Deluxe Edition (Universal)

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew Live (Legacy)

Neil Young & the International Harvesters – A Treasure
(Reprise)

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On: 40th Anniversary Edition
(Motown)

Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lightning: Complete Chess Masters
(Hip-O Select)

Leonard Cohen: Complete Albums Collection (Legacy)

Grateful Dead – Europe 72
Vol. 2 (Rhino)

Drive By Truckers – Ugly Buildings,
Whores and Politicians: Greatest Hits 1998 – 2009 (New West)

Love – Black Beauty (High Moon)

Nick Lowe – Labour of Lust (Yep Roc)

Superchunk – Foolish (Merge)

 

Concerts

Prince, Madison
Square Garden,
NYC

Drive By Truckers, Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY

Wilco/Nick Lowe, Central Park
Summerstage, NYC

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Music
Hall of Williamsburg,
Brooklyn, NY

My Morning Jacket, Madison Square
Garden, NYC,

Robert Plant and Band of Joy, Beacon Theater, NYC

Patti Smith, Castle Clinton, NYC

Dawes/Blitzen Trapper, Webster Hall, NYC

Mekons, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY

 

Music Books

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video
Revolution – Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum (Dutton)

Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the
Public Got Scalped – Dean Budnick and Josh Baron (ECW)

Aerosmith: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Boston
Bad Boys – Richard Bienstock (Voyaguer) (Yes, we are related, but I still
recommend the book)

See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody – Bob Mould
and Michael Azerrad (Little, Brown)

 

 

—————————————————————————–

 

JOHN B. MOORE

PHILADELPHIA, PA

Blog: I Don’t Wanna
Grow Up ( /blogs/author/64/)

Jbmoore00@hotmail.com

 

Top 10 New Releases

Flogging Molly – Speed of Darkness (Borstal Beat)

Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (RCA)

Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground (SideOne Dummy)

Haunted Continents – The Loudest Year Ever (Forest Park Recordings)

American
Werewolf Academy
– Everything Is Alright So Far (Damnably Records)

Todd Snider – Live: The Storyteller (Thirty Tigers/Aimless
Records)

The Drowning Men – Beheading the Songbird (Borstal Beat)

Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones (Epitaph)

Chris Trapper – The Few and the Far Between (Starlit)

Cobra Skulls – Agitations (Fat Wreck Chords)

 

Best Record Label

SideOne Dummy Records

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

Clarence Clemons, longtime E Street Band member

 

Dumbest Band Name

Diarrhea Planet – great band, shitty name (no pun intended)

 

Asshole of the Year

Rick “the Prick” Perry

 

2011 Release I Am Most
Anticipating

Springsteen’s rumored new album

 

Most Fucked Up or
Annoying Trend or Whatever

Planking. When my six year olds are doing this, you know its
dead.

 

Favorite story or
review you wrote for BLURT (include URL)

Flogging Molly: “The Motor City
is Burning”

/features/view/898/

 

 

————————————————————————-

 

MICHAEL TOLAND

AUSTIN, TX

 

Top 10 New Releases

The Bevis Frond – The Leaving of London (Woronzow)

The Blurries – Paper Cuts (self-released)

The Breakers – s/t (Wicked Cool)

Brother Eye – Emotional Fingers (self-released)

The Decemberists – The King is Dead (Capitol)

The Feelies – Here Before (Bar/None)

Leatherbag – Yellow Television (self-released)

Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’ (Columbia)

Gillian Welch – The Harrow
& the Harvest (Acony)

Wiretree – Makeup (self-released)

 

Top 10
Archival/Reissues

Peter Case – The Case Files (Alive)

The Church – Starfish (Second Motion)

Giant Sand – reissues (Fire)

Human Switchboard – Who’s Landing in My Hangar? Anthology
1977-1984 (Bar/None)

Paul Kelly – Greatest Hits: Songs From the South Vol. 1
& 2 (Gawd Aggie/Universal)

Stephin Merritt – Obscurities (Merge)

Nova Mob – The Last Days of Pompeii (Cond’or/MVD)

Sir Douglas Quintet – The Mono Singles ’68-’72 (Sundazed)

Ups & Downs – Out of the Darkness: Sleepless, Singles
& Other Stories (Feel Presents)

The Who – Quadrophrenia: The Director’s Cut (Universal)

 

—————————————————————-

 

Continued in Part 2

 

 

REVENGE OF THE WRITERS: Best & Worst of 2011 (Pt. 2)

In which the folks who work in the trenches get in the last word. Hey,
nothing’s stopping you from doing your own list!

 

BY THE BLURT CRÜE

 

We continue with our Writers’ lists
for 2011. Go here for Part 1.

 

STEVE KLINGE

PHILADELPHIA, PA

 

Top 10 New Releases

Destroyer-Kaputt (Merge)

Fucked Up-David Comes To Life (Matador)

Booker T. Jones-The Road From Memphis (Anti)

Nick Lowe-The Old Magic (YepRoc)

M83-Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

Tune-Yards-Whokill (4AD)

TV on the Radio-Nine Types of Light (Interscope)

M83-Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

The War on Drugs-Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

Wilco-The Whole Love (dBpm)

 

Archival/Reissues

Beach Boys, The Smile Sessions (Capitol)

Kate and Anna McGarrigle-Tell My Sister (Nonesuch)

Stephin Merritt-Obscurities (Merge)

Various-This May Be My Last Time Singing (Tompkins Square)

(And more…)

 

Top 10 Singles,
Tracks or Downloads

Adele-“Rolling in the Deep” (XL / Columbia)

The Black Keys,– “Lonely Boy” (Nonesuch)

Lana Del Ray-“Video Games” (self-released?)

The Decemberists-“Calamity Song” (Rough Trade)

Dum Dum Girls-“Bedroom Eyes” (SubPop)

PJ Harvey-“The Words That Maketh Murder” (Vagrant)

Jessica Lea Mayfield-“Our Hearts Are Wrong” (Anti)

The Joy Formidable-“Whirring” (Canvasback)

Lykke Li-“Get Some” (Atlantic)

Radiohead-“Separator” (self-released)

 

——————————————————————–

 

ZACH BLOOM

OAKLAND, CA

 

Top 10 New Releases

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Belong (Slumberland)

Cut Copy – Zonoscope (Modular)

Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital (Sub Pop)

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
(4AD)

Beirut – The Rip Tide (Pompeii)

Moonface – Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped
(Jagjaguwar)

Washed Out – Within and Without (Sub Pop)

Ssion – Bent (self-released)

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant)

 

Top 10 Singles,
Tracks or Downloads

M83 – “Midnight
City” (Mute)

Cut Copy – “Need You Now” (Modular)

Britney Spears – “Till The World Ends” (Jive)

The Vaccines – “If You Wanna” (Columbia)

St. Vincent – “Cruel” (4AD)

Cass McCombs – “County
Line” (Domino)

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – “Belong” (Slumberland)

The Antlers – “I Don’t Want Love” (Frenchkiss)

Charli XCX – “Nuclear Seasons” (This Is Music, Ltd.)

Dum Dum Girls – “Bedroom Eyes” (Sub Pop)

 

Concerts

Moonface-The Independent-San Francisco

Ssion-Drom-New York
City

Hold
Steady-Treasure Island
Music Festival-San Francisco

Psychic Friend-Rickshaw Stop-San Francisco

Handsome Furs-Slim’s-San Francisco

 

Favorite story or
review I wrote for BLURT

Nirvana retrospective. (Short, sweet, sentimental – my
writing AND my manhood.)

/features/view/982/

 

 

——————————————————————–

 

LOGAN K. YOUNG

WASHINGTON, DC

www.twitter.com/logankyoung

 

Top 10 New Releases

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

Lou Reed & Metallica, Lulu (Warner Bros.)

Demdike Stare, Tryptych
(Modern Love)

John Maus, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
(Ribbon Music/Upset The Rhythm)

Colin Stetson, New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges
(Constellation)

Nicholas Szczepanik, Please Stop Loving Me (Streamline)

Tim Hecker, Dropped Pianos (Kranky)

Zomby, Dedication (4AD)

Louis CK, Live at the Beacon Theater (self-released)

The Fall, Ersatz G.B. (Cherry Red)

 

Top 10
Archival/Reissues

Can – Tago Mago (Mute)

Angus MacLise – Dreamweapon I (Boo-Horay)

Father’s Children – Father’s Children (Numero Group)

Granddaddy – The Sophtware Slump (V2/Universal)

Throbbing Gristle – 20 Jazz Funk Greats (Industrial)

Einstürzende Neubauten – Silence Is Sexy (Potomak)

Morton Feldman & Samuel Beckett – Neither (Hat Hut)

Crass – Christ, The Album (Crassical Collection)

Harold Grosskopf – Synthesist (RVNG Intl)

Bob Dylan – In Concert: Brandeis University
1963 (Sony Legacy)

 

Top 10 Singles,
Tracks or Downloads

Oneohtrix Point Never, “Replica”

Wye Oak, “Holy Holy”

Baby Dee, “Regifted Light”

Lana Del Ray, “Video Games”

Prurient, “A Meal Can Be Made”

U.S.
Girls, “The Island Song”

Dum Dum Girls, “He Gets Me High”

Anne Pigalle, “Saint Orgasm”

James Blake, “Case Of You”

Gruff Rhys, “Slashed Wrists This Christmas”

 

Music Books

Simon Reynolds – Retromania: Pop Cultures Addiction to Its Own Past (Faber & Faber)

Byron Coley – Cest la guerre: Early Writings: 1978-1983(L’Oie de
Cravan)

Lasse Marhaug – Sudden Infant: Noise in My Head: The
Actionistic Music and Art of Joke Lanz (Marhaug Forlag Norway)

Justin Vivian Bond – Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in
High Heels (Feminist Press)

Logan K. YoungMauricio Kagel: A Semic Life (T[W]E[L]V[E]!)

 

Music Videos

Cat Reacts to Lulu ‘The View’

Cat Reacts to Lulu ‘The View’

Cat Reacts to Lulu ‘The View’

Cat Reacts to Lulu ‘The View’

Cat Reacts to Lulu ‘The View’

 

Concerts

Haters (Sonic Circuits Festival, Silver Spring MD 9/16)

Dean & Britta (13 Most Beautiful: Songs from Andy Warhol’s Screen Test, Washington DC
11/12)

Just Alap Ensemble (Dream House, New York NY 11/5)

Toro Y Moi (Indie
Grits Festival, Columbia SC 4/16)

Selena Gomez (Maryland State Fair, Timonium MD 8/26)

 

Films

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

Blank
City

The Skin I Live In

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (3D)

 

Best Record Label

The limited-run, cassette-only mail order you tried to
KickStart with that burnout friend from your ol’ college radio show

 

Best Music-related
Website

fansforeverandever.com

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

In threes, in order (most recent, not importance): Hitch,
Conrad Schnitzler, Zoogz Rift

 

Best New Artist

Any one of the many roving minstrels that were occupying
Wall Street

 

Worst New Artist

From the Grammys: Skrillex

 

Dumbest Band Name

tUnE-yArDs…still

 

Sex Object of the
Year

The stainless steel KISSTM speculum (limited edition, of
course)

 

Asshole of the Year

Tyler, The Creator (or any editor who gave this knucklehead
inches)

 

Best Hair or Facial
Hair

Bradford Cox’s new, impossibly fey Branca coif or SG/SF
Michael Jordan’s (No. 23) ‘stache from those bloomer adverts

 

2011 Release I Am
Most Anticipating

adhoc.fm

 

Coolest Trend or
Whatever

That Beefheart got a shout-out on the campaign trail, and
Wolf Eyes got the same on The Office.

 

Most Fucked Up or
Annoying Trend or Whatever

That Beefheart got a shout-out, from Huntsman, on the
campaign trail…and that Wolf Eyes was on The
Office
.

 

Favorite story or
review you wrote for BLURT

Salvaging a printable Q&A with Tom Smith from To Live
And Shave In L.A. (in the current print
edition of BLURT
)

 

 

———————————————————————-

 

 

DANNY R. PHILLIPS

KANSAS CITY, MO

 

www.facebook.com/danny.r.phillips

 

Top 10 New Releases

The Black Keys “El Camino” (Nonesuch)

Foo Fighters “Wasting Light” (RCA)

Radkey “Irrationally Yours” (self-released)

Arctic Monkeys “Suck It and See” (Domino)

The Joy Formidable “Big Roar” (Atlantic)

Wavves “Life Sux” (Ghost Ramp)

Wild Flag “Wild Flag” (Merge)

Lydia
Loveless “Indestructible Machine” (Bloodshot)

Death “Spritual. Mental. Physical” (Drag City)

Holly Golightly and the Broke offs “No Help Coming”
(Transdreamer)

 

Archival/Reissues

Nirvana “Nevermind 20th Anniversary Edition” (Geffen)

Queen “40 Limited Edition Collectors Box Set” (Hollywood)

Jimi Hendrix “Winterland” (Sony Legacy)

The Pixies “Minotaur Box Set” (Artists in Resistance)

Smashing Pumpkins “Gish” (Virgin)

Death “For The Whole World To See” (Drag City)

The Cure “Disintegration” (Rhino Records)

 

Singles, Tracks or
Downloads

Black Keys “Little Black Submarines”

Wavves “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl”

Dawes “A Little Bit of Everything”

Mumford and Sons “The Cave”

Foo Fighters “White Limo”

Cage The Elephant “Staring at the Sun”

Death Cab for Cutie “You Are A Tourist”

 

Music Books

Bob Mould “See a Little Light” (Little, Brown and Co.)

Chuck Klosterman “Eating The Dinosaur” (Scribner)

Jim DeRogatis “The Velvet Underground” (Voyageur Press)

Keith Richards “Life” (Little, Brown and Co.)

Daniel Durchholz and Gary Graff “Neil Young: Long May You
Run; The Illustrated History”

 

Best Record Label

Bloodshot Records

 

 

——————————————————————

 

 

STEVE PICK

ST. LOUIS

 

Top 10 Albums

The Bangles – Sweetheart of the Sun (Model Music Group)

Joe Henry – Reverie (Anti)

k.d. lang & the Siss Boom Bang – Sing It Loud (Nonesuch)

Sarah Jarosz – Follow Me Down (Sugar Hill)

Amy Lavere – Stranger Me (Archer)

Shelby Lynne – Revelation
Road (Everso)

Imelda May – Mayhem (Decca)

Meshell Ndegeocello – Weather (Naïve)

Willie Nile – The Innocent Ones (River House)

Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music)

 

 

————————————————————————

 

 

DAVE STEINFELD

NEW YORK, NY

 

Top 10 Albums

Fay Wolf – Spiders (Fay Wolf/Hermonica Music)
Mesmerizing debut from Connecticut-born,
California-based
singer-songwriter. Hard to categorize, impossible to resist.

Garland Jeffreys – The King of In Between  (Luna
Park)
First album of new material in 13 years from this eclectic singer-songwriter
and proud New Yorker.

The Records Featuring John Wicks – Rotate (Fuel)

Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What  (Hear Music)
It’s Paul Simon; need I say more?

The Postelles  (+1
Music)
Eagerly awaited debut from NYC “it band.” Produced by Albert Hammond Jr. of The
Strokes – who this band resembles.

Sniff ‘n’ the Tears – Downstream (Chapel Productions)
First disc in a decade by the band who brought us the classic hit “Driver’s
Seat.” An eclectic and impassioned album.

Vanessa Carlton – Rabbits on the Run (Razor & Tie)

Man Raze – Punkfunkrootsrock 
(Rocket Science)

Shawn Amos – Harlem  (Unbreakable Records)

 Christopher Cross –
Doctor Faith  (Eagle Rock)

 

Favorite story or review
you wrote for BLURT

The Records: “Still Starry Eyed”

/features/view/922

 

 

——————————————————————

 

 

DOMINIC UMILE

BROOKLYN, NY

http://twitter.com/dominicumile

 

Top 10 New Releases
(in reverse order)

10. Falty DL – You Stand Uncertain (Planet Mu)

9. Machinedrum – Rooms (Planet Mu)

8. Washed Out – Within and Without (Domino)

7. J Rocc – Some Cold Rock Stuf (Stones Throw)

6. Charles Bradley – No Time for Dreaming (Dunham Records)

5. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

4. Martyn – Ghost People (Brainfeeder)

3. Papercuts – Fading Parade (Sub Pop)

2. Belong – Common Era (Kranky)

1. Tycho- Dive (Ghostly International)

 

 

——————————————————————————

 

ROBERT FULTON,

LOS ANGELES, CA

www.robertfultononline.com

 

Top 10 New Releases

My Morning Jacket – Circuital (ATO Records)

Radiohead – The King of Limbs (self-release)

Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose (Oh Wow Dang Records)

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (SupPop)

Deer Tick – Divine Providence
(Partisan Records)

Adele – 21 (Columbia)

Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams (SubPop)

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Hysterical (self)

Jay-Z & Kanye – Watch the Throne (Def Jam)

Wilco – The Whole Love (d8pm)

 

Music DVDs

Pearl Jam 20

The Other F Word

 

Concerts

Chris Cornel at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Washington, D.C.

(It’s been  a long
year with few live events)

 

Films

Money Ball

Ides of March

The Muppets

(I don’t start watching the best 2011 films until Oscar
season after the first of the year).

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

Music related – Clarence Clemons

Non-Music – Dan Wheldon

(NO, I’m not putting Steve Jobs or Amy Winehouse on this
list).

 

Best New Artist

Nicki Minaj

 

Dumbest Band Name

LMFAO (no one should ever type LMFAO to express they are
laughing their fucking ass off).

 

Sex Object of the Year

Pippa Middleton

 

Coolest Trend or
Whatever

Bartenders who can make a good Old Fashioned

 

Most Fucked Up or
Annoying Trend or Whatever

Stones reissues, Floyd reissues, whatever issues.

 

 

——————————————————————–

 

 

DAVID ISKRA

NEW YORK, NY

 

Top 10 New Releases

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant)

Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
The Kills – Blood Pressures (Domino)
R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now (Warner Bros.)
Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys (Downtown Cooperative)

The Decemberists – The King is Dead (Capitol)
Peter Gabriel – New Blood (Real World)
Devotchka – 100 Lovers (Anti)
Wilco – The Whole Love (dbpm)

Beastie Boys- Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 (Capitol)

 

Top 10
Archival/Reissues

U2 – Achtung Baby (Island)

The Smiths Complete (Rhino)

R.E.M. – Life’s Rich Pageant (Warner Brothers)

Nirvana – Nevermind (Geffen)

Sting 25 (A&M)

Kate Bush – Director’s Cut (EMI)

Rolling Stones – Some Girls (Universal Republic)

This Mortal Coil (4AD)

The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (Virgin)

 

Top 10 Singles,
Tracks or Downloads

All the Eastern Girls -Chapel Club
The Afterlife – Paul Simon
From a Friend to a Friend – Pajama Club
Love is Found – Sade
Immigrant Song – Karen O
Wetsuit – The Vaccines
You Were Never There – Diego Garcia
Crystalline – Bjork
Jejune Stars –  Bright Eyes?

Calgary
– Bon Iver

 

Music DVDs

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake, Twelve Short Films
by Seamus Murphy

Peter Gabriel – New Blood Live

U2 – From the Sky Down

Pearl Jam 20

The Suburbs Spike Jonze/Arcade Fire

 

Music Books

Ticketmasters – Dean Budnick/Josh Baron (ECW Press)

Best of Music Writing 2011 – Alex Ross/Daphne Carr (Da Capo)

Pearl Jam 20 Pearl Jam & Cameron Crowe (Simon & Schuster)

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (Anchor)

Life – Keith Richards (Back Bay
Books)

 

Music Videos

Bjork – Crystalline

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Beastie Boys – Make Some Noise

REM – uberlin

Immigrant Song – Karen O

 

Concerts

U2 Giants Stadium

Peter Gabriel Camden

Black Dub TLA

Lykke Li TLA

The Flaming Lips at the Tibet House Benefit/Carnegie Hall

 

Films

50/50

Moneyball

Hugo

X-Men First Class

Midnight In Paris

 

Best Record Label

What’s that?

 

Best Music-related
Website

http://blog.largeheartedboy.com/

 

In Memoriam: Most
Lamented Death

Steve Jobs

 

Best New Artist

Of Monsters and Men

 

Worst New Artist

Foster the People

 

Dumbest Band Name

Foster the People

 

Sex Object of the
Year

Lykke Li

 

Asshole of the Year

Everyone that used “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”
in relationship to R.E.M.’s breakup

 

Best Hair or Facial
Hair

Daniel Lanois’ new beard

 

2012 Release I Am
Most Anticipating

METRIC

 

Coolest Trend or
Whatever

Record Store Day

 

Most Fucked Up or Annoying
Trend or Whatever

Anything related to Glee

 

Favorite story or
review I wrote for BLURT

Black Dub: “Live In Philly”

/news/view/5137

 

 

 

2011 IN REVIEW: The Blurt Top 50 Albums

Nevermind the Drake-Adele mainstream bollocks,
here’s the good stuff. Waits nabs best album; tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill
Garbus, best artist; also Isbell, PJ, Keys, Wild Flag…

 

BY THE EDITORS

 

It was the best of years,
it was the… er, well… yeah. It was the best of years. Funny though –
could swear we’ve heard that somewhere before. Maybe it’s because 2010 was the
best of years too! Seriously; at this stage in the game, there are so many records
released each year, and in every genre and micro-genre imaginable, that you’re
either hopelessly ADD-derailed or just plain lazy if you can’t find 10, 20 or
even 50 titles worth hollering each year.

        So as we wrote 12 months ago in this
space, please feel free to slap that person standing next to you who is griping
about not hearing anything good this year. Then ask us sometime about trying to
pare down a list of some 200-odd worthy new releases (and that 200 was trimmed
from the more than 3,000 CDs – we don’t count digital files; there were
probably another 1,000 of those – sent to BLURT in 2011) into a manageable Top
50. Okay, technically it’s a Top 51, because we’ve got a separate Album of the
Year and Artist of the Year.

        We’ve tried to factor in the fave raves
of our 50+ contributing writers, the best-album picks from our readership in
our informal year-end readers’ poll, and sundry less-quantifiable measures that
our highly skilled team of office interns employed in order to arrive at that
Top 50/51. But in the end, we don’t take it all that seriously, because we’ve
been doing this year-end stuff long enough to know that (a) our list is prone
to change within five minutes of publishing it; and (b) the only folks who read
these lists are the ones who write them, music publicists trawling for content
for their next press releases, and maybe an aggregator or two. The artists
themselves are too busy thinking about their next projects, their upcoming
tours, paying the rent, etc., to worry about whether or not they land in someone’s ephemeral year-end roundup.

        Bottom line: no excess navel gazing
here; no what everything means, maaan… from
your friendly neighborhood BLURT. Here’s our list – let’s do this. (Fifteen Honorable
Mentions appear at the end.)

 

[See also, tomorrow: Revenge of the Writers, wherein the BLURT staffers
and contributors submit their individual lists of 2011 picks ‘n’ pans. And if
you want to compare these lists with last year’s, check out our Top 50 of 2010, or (if you dare) our Writers’ Picks for 2010.
]

 

***

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti-)

Contributing Editor A.D. Amorosi writes: Ever since Tom Waits dropped the jazz-bo Small Change piano man routine, his work has become a cheap carnival of souls haunted by
chain-rattling characters as brashly disturbing as his claustrophobic
arrangements and melancholy melodies. On Bad
As Me
his songs find their center
immediately and stick like a record’s skip. The insistent mess of percussive
banjo, oinking guitars and huffy harmonicas that is
“Chicago”; the wheezing organs, steel wool drums of “Raise Right Man”; the
tinkling ghost piano and whammy bar’s bend on the softly spun “Talking at the
Same Time”; onto these Waits coughs and wheedles while espousing his delirious
gospel’s daily absolutions.

 

 

 

 

        Meanwhile, for “Get Lost” a vocally
trembling Waits and company (which includes Keith Richards and Les Claypool)
re-imagines “96 Tears” as a Suicide song. Speaking of Keith Richards, there’s a
Stones-namechecking “Satisfied.” And as with every great Waits album, there’s a
softly Irish seasick shanty as heartbreaking as a Montgomery Clift glance and as melodic as any Sammy Kahn ballad-here,
album closer “New Year’s Eve” which quotes “Auld Lang Syne”
so seamlessly, it’s as if Waits penned it himself.

 

 

 

 

ARTIST OF THE YEAR: tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

Contributor Max Blau
writes:
It’s hard to imagine how Merrill Garbus could’ve had a better 2011.
The tUnE-yArDs frontwoman released an eclectic-pop masterpiece with her
sophomore effort, grew tremendously as a performer and garnered a reputation as
one of indie-rock’s most dynamic figures around. Not bad for someone who not
too long ago resisted the idea of a career as a professional musician.

        In some
ways w h o k i l l feels
like a culmination of what she started with 2009’s BiRd-BrAiNs, in terms of properly recording her work. And as
dynamic as tUnE-yArDs is on record, the live show has this whole other
powerful component to it. It’s almost like watching a song be constructed
in the moment during a concert. Yet
even with all the year-end accolades, she believes that there’s plenty of work
left to be done. That’s not to say she remains unhappy about her progress, but
rather she’s trying to take the good and the bad in stride when reflecting upon
her work. (Read Blau’s interview with Garbus here.)

 

 

 

—————ALL THE REST——————

 

 

2: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest
(Lightning Rod)

WE SAID:  As Here We Rest unfolds, it’s
hard not to think of an earlier, equally complex meditation on how people feel
and act when they find themselves at the ends of their ropes during troubled or
desperate times – Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness At the Edge of Town.
This is not to overstate the case by saddling Isbell with the fatal “young
Springsteen tag” (much as The Boss himself was hyped, early in his career,
as yet another “young Dylan”); despite certain key age/résumé
similarities between the two men at their respective stages of development, the
2011 musical milieu remains vastly different from that of 1978. But the Isbell
record is, in a word (or several), a huge artistic achievement, and on multiple
levels: the lyrics are evocative, emotional, and multifaceted; the music
itself, deftly arranged, in archetypal tight-but-loose fashion; and the whole
thing resonates and lingers in the mind long after the disc has spun. You’ll
want to play it over and over and over.

 

 

 

 

 

3: PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant)

WE SAID: Things are
bad. Worse than they were when she was whipping her hair around her face
screaming “Sheela-Na-Gig” back in ‘92. The key to Let England
Shake
is that you must think something when you walk away from it. It’s
her least passive listen. For all its saxophone’s honk (the only low end here),
floating high-voiced whispers and thrumming autoharp-filled tones touched by
oddly funny sampled riffs (“Istanbul,
Not Constantinople”? Really?!?), the boldest vision within its
stark white walls – her choice in cover art – is that Harvey has finally opened
herself up to the un-scrubbed society at large; the political ramifications of
war and the ages-old ruminations on peace.

 

 

 

 

 

4: Wild Flag – Wild
Flag (Merge)

WE SAID: Take two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney, add the helm of
Helium and a key role player from the Minders and you have Wild Flag. But
although they may have cut their teeth in the nineties, their project doesn’t
sound like an attempt to reclaim
past glories. While the kick of recognition of the distinctive styles and
contributions of each member is part of the pleasure, the album sounds like the
product of a group, of a powerful force of equals. And it’s all the better for
it.

 

 

 

 

 

5: Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)

WE SAID: There are
(producer) Danger Mouse noises to contend with, but nothing gets in the way of
the fast danceable pulse and staggeringly messed up guitar-and-vocal attack
arranged by Dan Auerbach as if he were taking Savannah (by way of Tiger
Mountain) by siege. Auerbach talks as much trash as he plays, and El Camino offers, like they say in Spinal Tap, black, lean mean T-Rex-ish blues
party pop that spirals nearly out of control.

 

 

 

 

 

6: War On Drugs – Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

WE SAID: Singer/songwriter/bandleader
Adam Granduciel seems to be less concerned with individual tracks than with
creating a holistic atmosphere, a tactic not often played in the current
climate of blog-friendly one-offs. Once
again, The War on Drugs have crafted an album built not upon flash or novelty,
but a new take on traditional rock and roll that is always pushing forward.

 

 

 

 

 

7: Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (LL
Recordings/Atlantic)

WE SAID: Emotional
lows and highs, mirrored by the bipolar quality of the music swinging
restlessly between light/airy and dark/heavy, carry the listener along through
his or her own catharsis. When it arrives, in the form of a musical and lyrical
coda that’s like a smirking punchline, it’s profound, and profoundly
unsettling. Wounded Rhymes will leave you exactly that – wounded.

 

 

 

 

 

8: Charles Bradley –
No Time for Dreaming (Daptone)

WE SAID: Brooklyn-based soul man Bradley had to wait until
he was in his ‘50s and walk a long, hard road to get to his debut. It’s a
record top heavy with anxiety, pain, heart-ache and loss, Bradley’s voice big,
rough and deeply soulful. It’s not a pretty soul voice – no Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson or Stevie Wonder here – but it
perfectly fits and embodies his material.

 

 

 

 

 

9: Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
(Software/Mexican Summer)

WE SAID: Synth wizard Daniel Lopatkin injects a sense of
rhythmic play into Replica, turning the boundless, water-colored
landscapes of last year’s Returnal, just like that, into kinetic sculptures. There’s a dose of the otherworldly in these
evocative tracks, but laced, in all but a few cases, with recognizable bits of
ordinary life. Ultimately, a hint of transcendence emerges, pure rays of
sensation shining through an inchoate world.

 

 

 

 

 

10. Beastie Boys –
Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 (Capitol)

WE SAID: The interpersonal tragedy of death and disease is
met with a cream pie, fart riddles and the band’s most innovative sounding
record in years. The rhymers head back to the old school to wreak lyrical havoc
atop the sort of dense grooves that made Check Your Head swing and
analog electro-synth kicks that made Hello Nasty do the Robot.

 

 

 

 

 

11: JC Brooks &
the Uptown Sound – Want More
(Bloodshot)

WE SAID: JC Brooks and the Uptown
Sound are finding their own place in the soul revivalist pantheon of recent years.
They keep the party rolling with some sizzling dance grooves, some swooning
falsetto vocals, some short and impeccable guitar breaks, and a whole lot of
energy. Want More delivers some fine goods, but also lives up to the
title; the best songs here leave us wanting more like them.

 

 

 

12: The Ettes –
Wicked Will (Fond Object/Krian/Fontana/Sympathy)

WE SAID: The Nashville-based band imprints its own
distinctive, tuneful personality on every track. Moving back to the
quick-and-dirty presentation of their early work (a by-product of frontwoman
Coco Hames’ busbabe’s holiday in the Parting Gifts with the Reigning Sound’s
Greg Cartwright, perhaps; the album also finds them reunited with British
producer Liam Watson), the Ettes keep Wicked Will simple and memorable,
no matter which of their musical facets they choose to flash.

 

 

 

13: The Roots – undun
(Def Jam)

WE SAID: Their tenth proper LP, and finest work since Things
Fall Apart
, contains the Roots’ most challenging and soulful jams yet, a
foray into concept album territory.
Anyone who wants to hear the graceful way by which hip-hop can age should add
it to their collections right away.

 

 

 

14: Jesse Sykes &
the Sweet Hereafter – Marble Son (Station Grey/Thirty Tigers)

WE SAID: They fold layers of gauzy acid folk, swirling
psychedelic guitar noise and haunted atmospheres into Sykes’ droning Americana,
as if she discovered LSD while hanging out with the art metal overlords in Sunn
0))) and Boris. For all the new sonic waves undulating through this record,
however, the band’s distinctive identity still shines – there’s no mistaking Marble
Son
for the work of anyone else, and it’s the ability to evolve while
still remaining true to core values that makes this group great.

 

 

 

15: Femi Kuti –
Africa For Africa (Knitting Factory)

WE SAID: His sociopolitical stance is right out front in the
title, and that’s before you get to blunt songs like “Can’t Buy Me,”
“Bad Government” and “Politics in Africa.”
And like his father, Femi has mastered the art of Afrobeat, his jazzy, guitar
and horn-driven trance funk riding the groove of undulating bass, percolating
percussion and liquid melodies all the way to the Shrine.

 

 

 

16: Feist – Metals
(Cherrytree/Interscope)

WE SAID: Metals is not her rock move, but it is
certainly more intense and at times percussive than either 2004’s Let It
Die
or 2007’s The Reminder… a surprising fascination with drums
pumped to the forefront of the mix, sometimes disruptively.
The album is interested in dualities: the good and the bad, the loud and the soft, the bitter
and the sweet.

 

 

 

17: Panda Bear –
Tomboy (Paw Tracks)

WE SAID: Throughout the Animal Collective releases, Noah Lennox
has nurtured his newest vocal style – all adjectives synonymous with
“soaring” – and it’s no surprise he’s still infatuated with it on Tomboy.
And though stripped-down in terms of sampling, each song is still heavily
doused in reverb: the formula remains cosmically sweet.

 

 

 

18: Warren Haynes –
Man In Motion (Stax)

WE SAID: Haynes has long demonstrated a deeply soulful side
to him, particularly in the evolution of his vocal style, with touches of
Memphian funk and gospel, Muscle Shoals R&B and N’awlins gumbo frequently
evidenced. Those music meccas figure prominently – spiritually – on the album,
which is hotwired from start to finish.

 

 

 

19: Arrica Rose and
the …’s – Let Alone Sea
(pOprOck)

WE SAID: Warm, natural, casually excellent, this LA
songwriter’s third full-length feels as soft and worn-in as an old tee-shirt.
Her dusky alto is sure and true, fluttering a little at the edges, and there’s
an Americana
ease to these melodies, a bit of twang and blues slipped into their clean pop
contours, though all that is layered over with a dreamy bit of gauze.

 

 

 

20: The Joy
Formidable – The Big Roar (Atlantic)

WE SAID: The Big Roar expands the sonic range of
the Welsh group’s eight-song mini-album, A Balloon Called Moaning. Yet
despite the trio’s robust attack, there is something singer-songwriterly about
its music: Ritzy Bryan’s cryptic,
personal lyrics.

 

 

 

21: Bonnie ‘Prince’
Billy – Wolfroy Comes To Town (Drag
City)

WE SAID: A private air hangs over these Americana-toned
reveries, the guitar notes picked out of the air, thoughtfully but
provisionally, as if others could have come just as easily, the voices twined
casually. Spareness in the arrangements only accents the songs’ mournful,
self-examining tone, as Will Oldham ponders man’s evil, life’s shortness and
God’s evident absence.

 

 

 

22: Reigning Sound –
Abdication… (Scion/AV)

WE SAID: A digital-only album from the Asheville, NC,
garage kings, who this time around emphasis their pop and soul roots, mainman
Greg Cartwright additionally “reining in” his signature vocal scream for a
sleeker delivery. But don’t worry, longtime fans – there’s plenty of Nuggets-worthy moments to be gleaned
within the grooves. Nobody’s abdicating nothin’ here.

 

 

 

23: Destroyer –
Kaputt (Merge)

WE SAID: A slickly elegant sound indebted to late ‘70s /
early ‘80s bands like Steely Dan, Prefab Sprout and the Blue
Nile. Everything’s awash in undulating synths, fretless bass, horn
solos drenched in reverb, and post-disco rhythms, often programmed. It’s all
very pretty, very accessible, very elegant, very quiet storm. And very
surprising on a Destroyer album.

 

 

 

24: Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose (Oh Wow
Dang)

WE SAID: While the [female-rock] doo wop revival has become
increasingly contagious the past few years (Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls,
Frankie Rose and the Outs), there’s something decidedly different in the strain
borne by Those Darlins’: a feverish southern swagger that’s as un-coifed as it
is manageable. It’s one of those interspatial borderlines that keeps listeners
guessing.

 

 

 

25: Wilco – The Whole
Love (dBpm)

WE SAID: It’s key to note that these aren’t mere Xeroxes of
previous Wilco eras. Everything about the band on The Whole Love is
tucked tight in the pocket: the songwriting feels laser-focused; the playing is
professional and evocative; the arrangements and accents
compelling, judicious and always in service of the song.

 

 

 

26: Tinariwen –
Tassili + 10:1 (Anti-)

Known as masters of the indigenous North African genre
called “Touareg,” the group invited members of TV on the Radio, Wilco
and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to guest. Yet the album isn’t a homogenized take
on Third World folk traditions. Playing off
some spare native instrumentation, trademark chants, and songs sung in their
native tongue, it’s an exotic aural adventure.

 

 

 

27: Beirut – The Rip
Tide (Pompeii)

WE SAID: The
Rip Tide
is moderate in ambition. But it portrays a single, glowing
moment, and it seals over that “world music” pigeonhole. Two birds
with one stone, one album with nine tracks. Few chords, few lines, and few
concepts: simplicity is the ultimate
sophistication, right?

 

 

 

28: Real Estate –
Days (Domino)

WE SAID: Though they’ve only existed since 2009 (when member
Martin Courtney, who is also in Titus Andronicus, returned to his native New
Jersey after college and joined some high school pals), Real Estate have slowly
carved out their own mark with discerning pop music fans via low-key,
intelligent songs. Days is a fine batch of bittersweet pop songs that
are nearly impossible to ignore.

 

 

 

29: Black Joe Lewis
& the Honeybears – Scandalous (Lost Highway)

WE SAID: Like Albert Collins trapped in James Brown’s body,
Black Joe Lewis dishes up heaping hot helpings of dirty funky-butt blues on Scandalous.
The Austin
singer/guitar slinger’s second album bypasses the brainstem and beelines
straight for the hips and gut, letting the grooves and guitars carry the
message.

 

 

 

30: Bon Iver – Bon
Iver (Jagjaguwar)

WE SAID: By adding a full band, Justin Vernon creates a
rich, melodic depth that
demonstrates a positive departure from his previous acoustic dependency. The
new arrangement lines up almost seamlessly with the overall lyrical tone of the
album, as Vernon’s
soft, falsetto cry seems to echo a universal internal struggle and longing for
escape from oneself.

 

 

 

31: The Kills – Blood
Pressures (Domino)

WE SAID: “Take no prisoners” has been the message and the mantra
in The Kills’ evolution thus far, yet for Blood Pressures a kindler/gentler
Kills surfaces in places. It’s a deliciously schizoid traipse through the duo’s
record collection, dipping into everything from motorik trance-rock
and glutinous glam to ‘80s-throwback New Wave and mutant girl-group pop.

 

 

 

32: Howe Gelb & A
Band of Gypsies – Alegrias (Fire)

WE SAID: Giant Sand’s Gelb collaborates with various Spanish
Flamenco guitar players and you can feel the Spanish heat [on certain tracks].
Elsewhere, the beauty lies in the contrasts – luminous nylon-string runs, a
fuzzy Crazy Horse feedback implosion, jazz chords over subtle beats.

 

 

 

33:
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost (True Panther Sounds)

WE SAID: Girls perfect a graphic sophomore effort with the
literary intricacy of Nabakov and the lovelorn, Texas-Panhandle rock ‘n’ roll
flavor of Buddy Holly.  Rooted deeply in
cold hard reality, vocalist Christopher Owens’ existence trumps any work of
fiction and makes for wonderfully wound-up storytelling throughout.

 

 

 

34: HTRK – Work
(Work, Work) (Ghostly International)

WE SAID: In an unlikely mesh of lo-fidelity production and gripping headphone
playback, HTRK (pronounced “hate rock”) explore muddled electro/organic
noisepop. Vocalist Jonnie Standish partly talks, partly sings, with both
configurations coded in watery delay on this droning, comely record. Dark,
lingering and beautiful.

 

 

 

35: Tommy Keene –
Behind the Parade (Second Motion)

WE SAID: Keene’s almost casual mastery of post-‘60s/postpunk
melodies and hooks, smart, humanist lyrics and janglecrunch guitar wizardry
means his signature sound is intact on his tenth LP – it would be too
predictable if it didn’t always sound so fresh. Behind the Parade lobs
another handful of Keene
klassiks into the katalogue.

 

 

 

36: Drive-By Truckers
– Go Go Boots (ATO)

WE SAID: The Truckers have once again turned to their
hometown for inspiration, tipping their hat to the country soul made famous by
Muscle Shoals while covering two songs by the late Eddie Hinton, one of the
town’s greatest talents. It’s perhaps their most well-rounded effort since The
Dirty South
and further solidifies their place among America’s best rock bands.

 

 

 

37: My Brightest
Diamond – All Things Will Unwind (Asthmatic Kitty)

WE SAID: Bravery may be a recurring theme on My Brightest
Diamond’s newest release, fitting considering the woman behind the project,
Shara Worden, knows a thing or two about valor. Only a few, the gifted few,
could courageously puree together a blend of cabaret, orchestra, and highbrow
lyricism in a world still so heavily dependent on the basic rock-drums-bass method.

 

 

 

38: Foo Fighters –
Wasting Light (RCA)

WE SAID: On the Foo Fighters’ seventh record, Dave Grohl and
band have created a near perfect rock record for every Generation X kid now
settled into life as a mature adult burdened with a mortgage, kids and the mind-numbingly
mundane job they swore they’d never have. Though the band has made some solid
albums in the past, Wasting Light is nearly spot-on from the opening
track to the very end.

 

 

 

39: Wooden Shjips –
West (Thrill Jockey)

WE SAID: When San
Francisco psych-rockers plug in, they set the controls
for the pineal of the sun, and shift into interstellar overdrive in their
ongoing quest to prove Professor Reed’s theory that electricity comes from
other planets. The Wooden Shjips are the real deal, and West gets
about as good, and as far out, as it gets.

 

 

 

40: Atlas Sound –
Parallax (4AD)

WE SAID: As the original outlet for Deerhunter’s Bradford
Cox, Atlas Sound has always leaned toward the strange, fuzzy and abstract.
Though Cox maintains his signature subtle desolation, he’s more self-assured
than ever this time. Gentle introspection – instead of the outright melancholy
he often exudes – paired with sway-worthy melodies make Parallax the
most listenable Atlas Sound album to date.

 

 

 

41: Anika – Anika
(Stones Throw)

WE SAID: [Reminiscent at times of Portishead’s] Dummy,
the overall musical feeling here is downtown NYC sometime around the late ’70s
and early ’80s, or perhaps The Clash’s experiments in disco and dub, or PIL’s
early deconstructed punk rock. Whatever the case, Anika’s Nico-esque vocals,
vaguely foreign accent intact, are appealing as she intones over a bevy of
minimal beats. The songs are complex in their emotion and unique in their
construction.

 

 

 

42: Josh T. Pearson –
Last of the Country Gentlemen (Mute)

WE SAID: Comprising mostly country-folk acoustic
balladeering, it’s not as sonically apocalyptic
as former band Lift To Experience’s The
Texas Jerusalem Crossroads,
but it’s no less devastating, emotionally
speaking, featuring complex Buckley-meets-Fahey numbers and violin-strewn
antebellum folk.

 

 

 

43: Mountain Goats –
All Eternals Deck (Merge)

WE SAID: The Goats set emotional unease to driving acoustic
rock, lush pop, dynamic piano rock and John Darnielle’s standard folk/pop. What
sets Darnielle apart from other misery-mongers is both his superior sense of
songcraft and his conviction that all will be well – or at least better – if
you work through things.

 

 

 

44: Otep – Atavist
(Victory)

WE SAID: An utterly uncompromising melange of nü-metal and
21st century Prog, the 5th album from these L.A.-based
pyro artists still manages to throw a curveball by way of a riveting Doors cover. Which
makes sense: charismatic, howling/growling frontwoman Otep Shamaya is all about
challenge. Further, her poetry,
fierce populism and political activism marks her a role model in 2011 as surely
as Patti Smith was decades ago.

 

 

 

45: Tycho – Dive
(Ghostly International)

WE SAID: Tycho’s Scott Hansen explores the warmest corners
of electronic music, using well-worn vintage synths to float dreamy melodies
over insistent stutters and clatters of percussion. He splices organic sounds –
scratchy acoustic guitars, the distant boom of bass, human voices – into seamless,
otherworldly soundscapes.

 

 

 

46: Iceage – New
Brigade (What’s Your Rupture?)

WE SAID: This 12-track typhoon is exactly the kick in the
ass our sorry punk community needs in the wake of Jay Reatard’s untimely death.
It’s the sound of a band in the center of a sonic peninsula where English
post-punk, Eastern European goth and North American hardcore meet.

 

 

 

47: Dengue Fever –
Cannibal Courtship (Fantasy/Concord)

WE SAID: It retains everything that has made Dengue Fever so
distinctive – the chattering garage-influenced guitar licks, the
Farfisa-sounding keyboards, the minor-key horn charts, the intricate yet
perfectly accented rhythms, and of course the ethereal vocals of Cambodian
vocalist Chhom Nimol. But it sounds entirely contemporary in a world in which
indie rock bands can win Grammy Awards.

 

 

 

48: David Kilgour and
the Heavy Eights – Left by Soft (Merge)

WE SAID: Beautifully understated, tinged with psychedelic
colors and harmonies, amplified to rock volume, but relaxed to the point that
you might miss how well it is put together, Left By Soft is another
milestone for the New
Zealand artist. He has a way of wrapping
well-structured songs in clouds and auras of atmosphere, so that their hooks
and melodies dawn on you gradually, rather than slapping you across the face.

 

 

 

49: Fleet Foxes –
Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

WE SAID: While their contemporaries often dabble loosely
with the nü-folk tag, Fleet Foxes re-imagine those sepia trappings without
wholly redefining them. The inherent orthodoxy of their approach finds acoustic
strumming, fiddles, mandolin and dulcimer fleshing out the arrangements… Such
is the mesmerizing quality of these songs and the spectral treatment they’re
accorded. Credit the band’s ability to offer reverence and circumspect even
while etching a spectral aura all their own.

 

 

 

50: Wild Beasts –
Smother (Domino)

WE SAID: Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto flutters like a
hummingbird, swoops and curls like a multi-colored kite in the wind. Smother is the Wild Beasts’ most restrained, refined effort yet, paring down hot-house
atmospheres to lush essentials… and finding ways for Thorpe’s wild fantasias to
work as artistry rather than oddity.

 

 

 

*****

 

15 HONORABLE MENTIONS:

 

MekonsAncient and Modern (Sin/Bloodshot); Dennis CoffeyDennis Coffey (Strut); John
Wesley Harding
The Sound of His Own
Voice
(Yep Roc); Crooked FingersBreaks In the Armor (Merge); Floating ActionDesert Etiquette (Park The Van); Bevis
Frond
The Leaving of London (Woronzow); SBTRKTSBTRKT (Young
Turks); SiskiyouKeep Away the Dead (Constellation); Dawes Nothing Is Wrong (ATO); Megafaun Megafaun (Home Tapes); Neon IndianEra Extrana (Static Tongues); Vex
Ruffin
Crash Course EP (Stone’s
Throw); The Baseball ProjectVolume 2: High and Inside (Yep Roc); Ry CooderPull Up Some Dust and Sit Down (Nonesuch/Perro Verde); Paper Tiger Me Have Fun (Boy Girl Recordings)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAKING CARE OF BIZNESS tUnE-yArDs

Our 2011 Artist Of The Year looks
back on what was an amazing year for her even as she plots her next
move. But first, there’s some apartment cleaning to do…

 

BY MAX BLAU

 

It’s hard to imagine how Merrill Garbus could’ve had a
better 2011. The tUnE-yArDs frontwoman released an eclectic-pop masterpiece
with her sophomore effort w h o k i l l (4AD),
grew tremendously as a performer and garnered a reputation as one of
indie-rock’s most dynamic figures around. She was even named BLURT’s Artist of the Year. Not bad for someone who not too long
ago resisted the idea of a career as a professional musician.

 

As the calendar comes to an end, we talked with Garbus about
what has been a whirlwind of a year for her. Even with all the year-end
accolades, she admits that there’s plenty of work left to be done. That’s not
to say she remains unhappy about her progress, but rather she’s trying to take
the good and the bad in stride when reflecting upon her work. We recently
caught up with the now Oakland-based songwriter, who discussed her thoughts on
the past year as well as what 2012 has in store for tUnE-yArDs.

 

 

 

***

 

BLURT: While
tUnE-yArDs has been widely praised and acclaimed this year, how would you
assess yourself in 2011? What do you think you’ve done great and what do you
think you still need to improve on?

MERRILL GARBUS: I have to stop myself sometimes to take a look
back and be proud, to give myself a reality check about all the things I’ve
accomplished this year. Honestly, life gets pretty messy when you spend
eight months of every year on the road, so mostly what I’m focused on is
staying healthy, getting bins to organize all of my crap, paying my rent on
time and/or soothing the nerves of my landlord… you know, mundane
stuff. All to say, there is PLENTY to work on. The fact is, I’ve hardly
found time to work on music this year, as in rehearsing and writing and
practicing, and that’s what I really need to change in the future.

        I think the “Bizness”
video is great and that was hardly my doing, but the hard work of a lot of
talented artists, dancers, directors and choreographers in the Bay Area. I’m
proud of the Roots appearance on Jimmy Fallon, mostly just that I didn’t pee my
pants. I’m proud that I pushed through and finished the album, because it
was a long undertaking with much self-doubt woven into it.

 

Initially, you were
resistant to becoming a professional musician. What’s been the most
difficult and enjoyable part of the journey to where you are today?

The enjoyable stuff is pretty clear… it’s a wonderful,
wonderful thing to bring a night of celebration to people and to have that
centered around these strange songs that I wrote and that somehow people
connect with. Every artist, I think, is looking for that opportunity to
resonate with an audience, however small or big that audience is. And I’ve
suddenly tapped into an incredible appreciation of my work, by thousands of
people. I couldn’t ask for a more encouraging environment to keep making music.

        Touring is
really difficult at times… if you’re not drunk or on drugs most of the time,
which I am not. But otherwise it’s very hard to complain. Sure, it’s
stressful, and it’s a bizarre up-and-down life where you’re showered with
accolades one minute and then hauling amps through a piss-filled alleyway the
next, but every night we get to raise people’s spirits, inspire them to dance,
and receive this huge burst of energy and joy.  

 

 Are there
certain things that you still struggle with as you continue to become more
seasoned as a professional musician?

Sure. The whole thing’s a struggle. But that’s
what life is, no? And it turns out I get incredible rewards along the way.

        For me in
particular, I guess keeping my voice and my arms and wrists together is a
struggle. Not much you can do when your body revolts. And there’s the
struggle of running a small business at the same time that you’re appearing in
front of hundreds of people every night, which is a struggle I’ll continue to
wrestle with until I figure some better systems out. I try to remember
that I’m fairly young in this industry and need to be patient with
myself. Honestly, there’s a struggle I have with feeling detached from my
friends, my community, with real life. Touring is a very warped way to
live. Especially now, when Oakland
is alive with the Occupy movement, I often wish I had more energy to give when
home, instead of feeling like I need to curl up in a ball on my bed.

 

After being someone
for years who wasn’t a professional musician and had other interesting
things you focused on (music being secondary), what do you do for fun
on the side nowadays with your music being your priority?

Fun?! Fun these days is NOT having fun, sort of… I
consider my working life fun, especially since we bring the party every night
of the week, so fun is now being in bed or (the most fun) cleaning my
apartment. Every night. Seriously.

 

 

 

You’ve played live in
a variety of configurations, including recently in Atlanta
as a quartet. What would your ideal setup be and why? Do you enjoy
performing as a multi-instrumentalist doing as much as you do in
a four-piece (
as
opposed to say, just percussion or just ukulele and vocals)?

I think the configuration of tUnE-yArDs is bound to change
over the years, because it can, and should. The whole thing is very free
and flexible, and I think it is best that way. Right now, I juggle a lot
on my own but am then supported by these stellar musicians around me. In
this way, I think the audience gets that exhilarating “it’s magic!”
feeling when I create the loops while at the same time not feeling sorry for me
that I am working my ass off up there.

        I always want
to steer away from being the center of attention all the time, though I know
that’s what’s happening these days. For my own mental health, I think it’s
important to see myself as part of a greater whole, and playing with other
skilled musicians has been a great way to do that. What’s far more
interesting in the end, I think, is what’s happening to all of us together in
that room, versus just me.

 

As dynamic as
tUnE-yArDs is on record, the live show has this whole other powerful
component to it. It’s almost like watching a song be constructed
in the moment during a concert. You could have a drummer or
trigger programmed beats, but you’re looping live percussion. Do you find
that people engage on a different, more curious level, because of your
live techniques?

Yes, absolutely. Again, “magic!” They
know it’s not magic, of course. But I’ve always wanted to give people that
old-fashioned sense of entertainment where the performer is doing something
that they feel they could never do. Like the circus: the excitement is
that the impossible is being performed. And that means so much on a
grander scale, because if she can do the impossible, what else is
possible? That’s when the whole thing gets inspiring, and spiritual, even.

 

In some ways, w h o k i l l, feels like a
culmination of what you started with 2009’s BiRd-BrAiNs, in terms of properly recording your work. Have
you started working on a third record?

I have started writing songs but that’s all the thinking
I’ve done about it. It could go many different directions. The only thing
I know is that I want to focus on the voice and all of its potential colors and
possibilities.

 

As someone whose
expressed an affinity for lo-fi recording and having one “higher”-fidelity
record under your belt, do you have a better sense now of what you
prefer? I think many lo-fi devotees stick to that because they’re
not comfortable with more traditional studio recording.

I think it’s a distinction that I want to blur. I will
always want to hear humanity within a recording, and that, to me, means never
hiding behind the technology. Never masking the mistakes, the ugly parts,
the grit. I just want the recordings to remain interesting sonically. Like
that really interesting person you have a friend crush on because they have so
much life in them, and scars, and wrinkles, and strange vocal ticks and
stories.

        It has been my
experience that it’s not just about the songwriting. It’s about how the
song is evoked through the recording process. How it lives in a space,
where that bird chirp came from, where the musicians were when they
recorded. I think a lot of musicians lose that humanity that came through
in their earlier, scrappier recordings, and I don’t want to lose that, because
I think it’s the key.

 

 

 

How has your end goal
with tUnE-yArDs changed in your mind since you started? How do you think
it’ll change if at all moving forward?

I don’t think a lot has changed in terms of my mission, just
the circumstances. I have the same fire in my belly as I did when I was alone
touring in my Chevy, but now I have to fight a bit more to focus in on
it. There are a lot of distractions (a bigger, nicer van, with more dudes
in it, and a lot more t-shirts, and a much bigger audience. Everything,
you see, just got bigger).

        This whole
process, of growing tUnE-yArDs, has been a big lesson in how powerful I am, how
much power I wield. This has been a hard thing to believe, and then to
embrace. My hope is that I grow that I’ll be able to use this power for
positive, meaningful action, and that I will use it to show other people how
much power they have, too.

 

Would you mind
elaborating “My Country,” particularly on the line “The worst thing about
living a lie / it’s just wondering when they’ll find out?” It’s one
of those lyrics that’s been stuck in my head this year…

Hmmmm…  I had a kid tell me that it’s the line that
inspired him to come out to his family. I’ve heard audiences sing it back
to me like a war chant. It seems to be something that everybody can identify
with, in their own way. (How many lies being lived out there? How heavy the
weight of those lies!) There are the lies we as a country are suddenly exposed
to about our banks, our government. Fabric-of-our-society lies. I’m
not sure that we as a society know what to do with this information.

        I suppose
that’s how I prefer to write songs: a Dadaist smattering of lines that can poke
a nerve at any moment, and come back on you when you don’t expect it. A
line can mean 8 different things no matter where I originally derived it from,
and I want it to mean all of those things. Does that make sense?  

        It’s a
long-winded way of saying I’m not telling…

 

I only found out
recently that the child samples were you as a kid. How did you come with
the concept of juxtaposing yourself at different ages?

I just came across a cassette tape at my grandpa’s house
that said “Merrill at 2 and a half.” I was fascinated by
it. Once I was a bit older than two, I was very shy, around other kids and
in the world. So it was amazing to hear this very pure, unadulterated
(literally) version of myself, being a performer, loving to hear herself
sing. It made me feel like I was getting back to something I had lost for
a long, long time.

         Also, my grandparents, who are featured
in those recordings, both passed away as I was finishing the album. So it
became even more important to celebrate the influence they had on me by weaving
them into the recording.

 

What’s next for 2012?
Are you working on a follow-up record yet? If so, what sort of direction
are you going in so far? If not, what are your plans for next year
(musically and non-musically)?

       More touring…
we’ll go to Australia and New Zealand, Europe again, then festivals over the
summer. I’m hoping there will be room in there for writing. Mostly it
feels like we’ve gone through the grueling year of an album’s release, and that
hopefully this year we can enjoy it a little more, and slow down and remember
to get inspired.

 

Given the season for
‘best of’ lists, would you mind sharing your favorite album and favorite
artist of 2011, and what about each appeals to you?

My favorite album of the year is Beep’s City of the Future,
an album you have never heard of. It happens to be my Nate Brenner’s band,
but please don’t think I’m just favoring those who are near and dear to
me. The Beep album is daring like few albums are these days.

        I don’t like
playing favorites. But favorite artist this year… I’m going to say Low
Cut Connie, my friend Adam’s band. Nasty, gritty, good ol’ rock and roll
and no hipster knows what to do with it.

SURVIVOR Pegi Young

With her new album Bracing
For Impact, the
artist-also-known-as-Mrs.-Neil-Young flexes her creative wings and looks
forward with optimism.

 

BY ANDY TENNILLE

 

It’s close to 4 a.m., and all’s quiet on the Mother-Baby
ward.

 

Infants are shuttled to the nursery, allowing new moms a
brief respite for a few quick winks as dads sleep uneasily on nearby pleather
couches. Nurses come and go, checking in on their patients and preparing for
the shift change in a few hours. Outside, the wind whips the flags on the
flagpole at the center of the traffic circle, a strange Indian summer-like
Thanksgiving Day weekend. Inside, it’s silent, save for the beeps of the
monitors and the occasional scoot of some furniture on the floor above – Labor
and Delivery.

 

Across the room, my newborn daughter sleeps soundly in her
crib, a peaceful end to her exhausting first day of life.

 

 

***

 

It’s funny how certain albums come to define specific
periods of time, like personal soundtracks.

 

Tom Petty’s Full Moon
Fever
album was the soundtrack of the summer of 1989 for me. I was 12 years
old and remember riding to my summer league baseball games every weekend with
my Dad listening to “Free Fallin'” and “I Won’t Back Down.” Dad laughed at
Petty’s little joke about flipping the record before Gene Clark’s “I’ll Feel a
Whole Lot Better” and explained why vinyl was superior to the compact disc.

 

Tomorrow The Green
Grass
came out on Valentine’s Day of my junior year in high school. I’d
recently broken up with a girlfriend, one of my first lessons in love and the
perils of long-distance relationships. I was a big fan of The Jayhawks’ previous
release, Hollywood Town Hall, and wondered how Gary
Louris and Mark Olson could top it. They did, and Tomorrow The Green Grass didn’t leave my CD player for months.
Listening back to it now, the songs take me back to that winter 16 years ago,
full of teen angst and intense navel-gazing.

 

Dad passed away in July 2007 as I was on deadline writing
stories on both Band of Horses’ Cease to
Begin
and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ 100 Days, 100 Nights. I’d spent time with both bands during
recording sessions earlier that year, and my editors wanted them for that
fall’s issue. Those albums remind me of the days I spent at the hospital with
my father, and the late nights writing those stories sitting at his dining room
table.

 

When Bracing for
Impact
, Pegi Young’s new album on Vapor Records, hit my desk a few weeks
ago, the title spoke to me. My wife had just entered the ninth month of
pregnancy with our first child, and I was anxious – nervous about the prospect
of being a parent and wondering how this new addition was going to affect my
life. Bracing for impact seemed like a pretty good analogy, and I wondered what
watershed event in Pegi’s life led to the title.

 

“It came from the album artwork,” Young explained recently
from the California ranch overlooking the Pacific Ocean that she shares with husband and rock
legend, Neil Young. “It’s this beautiful piece of art that was done by a young
South African woman whose father was killed in a plane crash when she was 12
years old. Everyone on board was killed, and it happened under suspicious
circumstances. She did this series of paintings as a cathartic way to deal with
her grief. I was drawn to this one piece that from a distance looks like a
flower. When you look closely at it, it’s actually pictures of people in the
bracing for impact position like you see on an airplane. It seemed like an apt title for the album given some of the things that
happened over the last year.”

 

2010 was a rollercoaster year for the Youngs. In January,
the couple lost Larry “L.A.”
Johnson, a close friend and an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker who headed up
Neil Young’s film production company, Shakey Pictures. Tragedy struck again in
July when Ben Keith, Neil’s long-time pedal steel guitarist and Pegi’s producer
and musical director, died suddenly at his home on Broken
Arrow, the Young’s Northern California
ranch.

 

“Ben was really a champion for me from the very beginning,”
Pegi says. “He helped me feel comfortable playing my songs. He’s such an old…he
was such an old, dear friend. I just trust, trust…it’s hard for me to speak in
the past tense about him. I trusted him so completely. He was always there for
me. Losing him was a big shock to all of us.”

 

When Young’s band – bassist Rick Rosas, guitarist Anthony
Crawford and drummer Phil Jones – convened to rehearse for the first time after
Keith’s death, Crawford announced he was leaving the group.

 

“I looked at Rick and Phil and was like, ‘Well, I guess
we’re the only ones left now,'” Young recalls. “That band had done over a
hundred shows together opening for Neil, so we’d gotten to be a pretty tight
little unit. Losing Ben really shook us up, and then Anthony left, so everyone
left after was a survivor. That’s how we got Pegi Young & the Survivors.”

 

 

 

To record Bracing for
Impact
, Young gathered the Survivors at Sunset Sound, the legendary studio
where The Doors, Zeppelin and the Stones cut records on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. In keeping
with her husband’s now infamous belief in recording during the full moon, Pegi
started the sessions the day before the full moon in May 2011.

 

“It was a total coincidence, a happy accident, but if it
works for him, I don’t discount it,” she says with a laugh. “I think it is a
time of great productivity, and his experience has born that out. Mine did,
too. We tracked seven songs that first two days, just humming along. It came
together really quickly.”

 

Bracing for Impact is a different kind of album from its predecessors – Young’s folksy 2007
self-titled debut and the darker Foul
Deeds
three years later. For her first album, Young “dug out a lot of stuff
from back in the day, but the second and third records have been a lot more
current.” Bracing for Impact is a
fuller sounding album than Young’s ever made, apparent from the first notes of
“Flat Line Mama,” the funky album opener with horn fills from Joe Sublett,
Darrell Leonard and Jock Ellis. “We heard horns on a couple of songs when we
tracked, so Phil called a few friends in to help us out,” Young says. “Joe and
the guys came in and put some wonderful parts on three songs. I really liked
how it turned out, and that’s a credit to Phil.”

 

Songs like “Med Line,” “Trouble In A Bottle,” and “Lie” all
have a slow-burning soulful feel, Young’s smoky voice sounding like a sultry
lounge singer. “Number 9 Train” and “Daddy Married Satan” show off Young’s
country-rock songbook. The plaintive “No Heartbeart Sounds,” inspired in large
part by the loss of LA Johnson, features some beautiful keyboard work from
legendary Muscle Shoals sideman Spooner Oldham. Just as he’s done for all of
Young’s records since her 2007 self-titled debut, Oldham lent his keyboard
playing and songwriting talents to Bracing
for Impact
, but the Muscle Shoals legend was also responsible for finding
Crawford’s replacement: Kelvin Holley, a guitarist from north Alabama who has
recorded with Gregg Allman, Donnie Fritts and Bettye LaVette, to name just a
few.

 

“Anytime Spooner speaks up for someone, you go with it,”
Young says. “Kelvin’s a terrific player, and his playing really worked well on
this record. He’s been a great addition to the band.”

 

As on her previous albums, Young kept
up her tradition of covering other artists on Bracing for Impact, delivering a brilliant version of the Danny
Whitten-penned ballad “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.”

 

“I didn’t know Danny, he was before my time with Neil,”
Young says of the late guitarist and member of the Crazy Horse who died of a
drug overdose in November 1972. “Songs that I’m drawn to are songs that I feel
like I can get inside of. I generally don’t do a straight cover of a song with
the same arrangement or in the same key. Typically, I hear a song that I love,
and I turn it into my own. Sometimes, my versions bear little resemblance to
the original, but I used Danny’s original song with the Horse as inspiration.”

 

“Song for a Baby Girl” is the only track on the album where
Keith appears, his gorgeous, dreamy pedal steel fills floating over the
album-closer. “The guys were rehearsing for the last CSNY tour, the Living with War tour,” Young remembers.
“Spooner, Ben, Rick and Chad Cromwell, who plays drums on that track, were all
in L.A.
rehearsing, so I called Anthony Crawford out, and Elliot Mazer came in and
produced. We cut it one day at the Sound Factory, the sister studio to Sunset
Sound. I love that Ben’s on it.”

 

The last song to make the record was “Gonna Walk Away,” a
Bonnie Raitt-style rocker with background vocals from The Watson Twins. “We
finished tracking, and I thought we were pretty much finished with the album,”
Young says. “I went to lay down that afternoon to take a nap and the song just
hit me. I was just like, ‘Good grief, do you have to come now?’ Got up, and it
just flowed right through me in one or two takes.”

 

With her third album in the can and getting strong reviews,
a revamped band to work with and a tour scheduled opening for Stephen Stills,
Young appears ready to emerge from her husband’s imposing shadow and show the
world that Broken Arrow
is home to two talented songwriters and artists. But don’t let her catch you
calling it a career.

 

“I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have any delusions,” she says
with a laugh. “But being able to bring music back into my life over the last
few years, I feel like the timing was perfect. I don’t regret not doing it
sooner. I wasn’t ready. I was raising my children, and frankly my confidence
wasn’t there. I was really shy about bringing out my songs. But Neil and the
guys were always so supportive of me from the very first day.”

 

 

 

Talk eventually leads to the Bridge School Benefit, the
annual charity concert the Youngs have honchoed every fall for the last 25
years that benefits a Bay Area school for children with severe physical
impairments. The cause is close to the Youngs’ hearts – Pegi co-founded the
school in 1986 in part to have a place for Ben, the couple’s son who was born
with cerebral palsy, to attend school. 2011 marks the school and benefit
concerts’ 25th anniversary, which is being celebrated with the release of both
DVD and CD compilations of performances from the concerts over the last quarter
century. I ask Young if she’s ever wondered what her “career” would look like
now had she been able to focus on her music earlier in her life, and she
replies without missing a beat.

 

“Taking care of our son was my absolute focus,” Young says. “There
was no question that’s what I needed to do, and it led to the Bridge School.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of Bridge School,
an entity that truly changes lives. Ben gave us entrée into the Bridge School
and the world of disabilities that we wouldn’t have otherwise had. We owe that
all to him, and I’m incredibly grateful to him for it.”

 

***

 

Dawn is breaking. Outside, splashes of orange, red and
yellow streak the cloudless sky, announcing the impending arrival of the sun
and the beginning of a new day.

 

Inside, my daughter sleeps peacefully in her crib. I watch,
counting and double-checking the number of fingers and toes and noting the
birthmarks and freckles that dot her small face.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Autumn de Wilde]

 

THE INDIVIDUAL Remembering Joe Strummer (Pt.2)

More on the Clash icon, who passed away on Dec. 22, 2002, plus interviews with Mescaleros members Tymon Dogg and Martin Slattery. Pt. 1 can be found here.

BY FRED MILLS

There’s a myth that says you spent a long time in the wilderness, yet you actually stayed pretty busy after the Clash…

JOE STRUMMER: With a lot of weird little projects. Mainly I wanted to play out of the eye, out of the spotlight. All the films I worked on were sort of off-off-off-Broadway. Way off, heh-heh-heh. It seemed to be good to lie low for awhile. Mostly I felt uncertain as to what to do, and that sort of breeds perhaps a lack of confidence. No direction home, so to speak.

 Your film career wasn’t exactly invisible. Alex Cox’s Straight To Hell has just come out on DVD. Will that revive your acting aspirations?

Um, hopefully not! [laughs] I was in Los Angeles on the last tour for the last record and this guy comes up to me, like a one-man video crew, camera on the shoulder, microphone strapped on, and he asked, “Do you mind if I interview you about Straight To Hell?” I said, “What, are you pulling my leg?” Because the movie died a death back when. Although everyone who was in it secretly loves it! But you couldn’t say it went down well with the public or the critics. So this guy asks me, and I thought he was having a little jest. But the made a documentary and it’s on the DVD. I think he interviewed anybody that he could still find that was still standing up.

  I was giggling to myself, hoping that one day there’d be a director’s cut. The producers, when they saw what a crazy movie they had on their hand, I think they influenced a lot of the cutting. But I can dimly remember some really funny scenes that made me laugh, and one day I’d like to see them back in the flick.

 For that matter, you’ve been in enough movies that someone could put together a box set of your classic screen moments…

 It would be a thin box! A pamphlet… but no, I had a go at it, if you know what I mean.

 I’d like to see Walker, too, because I never got to see that.

Do you think that would come out on DVD? That’s the only place it could come out I guess.

 A couple of years ago you did a film called Docteur Chance.

 Oh yeah, now this has just come out on DVD because no one would dare play it in the cinema. No distribution guy’s ever gonna dare book something like that. Docteur Chance is quite a wild movie. At the London Film Festival, they showed it, right? And myself and F. J. Ossang, the French director, had to get up. There was about a thousand people that had seen the film. “So here’s one of the actors and the director to have a question and answer session.” The usual sort of thing. We got up onstage and — dead silence! Everyone was sitting on their hands. Frozen. Nobody could think of a question because the movie, erm… what’s it about, well, it’s a kind of road movie, and, erm, it’s very interesting! F.J. Ossang is really quite a character. And it is quite a movie!

 I know what you said about having opinions, but I’ve got to ask: Suddenly, with the September 11 attacks, the world seems a much more dangerous place – smaller, too, if you’re American. You’re European – how do you feel? Or even simply as a parent?

Well, everybody’s freaking out all over the world. That could happen on any airliner. So you gotta try and find a sort of bright side to the cloud. So now maybe, for example, just talking about airplanes, they’ll be sealed off and there’s gonna be a plainclothes sky marshal on every flight – and these things are probably good things for the safety of everyone.

       As a parent I guess I might in the middle of the night worry about whether the real IRA’s gonna blow up Shepherd’s Bush tonight or not. But it’s something you kind of learn to live with. I’m trying not to get too freaked out – keep it in hand. I reckon as time goes by we’ll be able to get it into more perspective, take a more steady view of things, maybe. And maybe you can say, this might be too heavy for the piece you’re gonna write, but it’s really brought a lot of nations out that weren’t previously into or down with the international community, like Iran and even Pakistan. Which is really a big leap forward.

 Both your music, with its global sound, and your occasional deejaying on the BBC World Service (“Joe Strummer’s London Calling”) with everything from blues, African music and reggae to Dylan, Small Faces and the Pogues, which is really all over the map, seems now to have a different social context.

I guess I’ve been too shocked to think about that lately. But I’ve always been keen on hearing stuff from anywhere. I always liked that feeling where you don’t know what’s going on, and this is a feeling I actively like to search out – say, you wanna find some music to hear at home or in the car. You know when you get tired of rock ‘n’ roll and you need to find something. So I often like finding music where you don’t know what the hell is going on or what’s gonna happen next. That’s a great feeling, because you feel like you’re being educated somehow, or you’re learning something, or something new is coming in. But I ain’t no expert, and [on the BBC] I just thought I might as well make hay while the sun shone. Because I’ve got a free hand, and that’s kind of rare in the modern world, to be on the radio broadcasting and have a free hand to play the music that you want and that you like. I’m determined to make the most of it.

 What, then, would you program off your new album if you were on the BBC tonight?

I might play “At The Border Guy”! [laughs] That would be weird. Or I could always play all of “Minstrel Boy” and go and have a sandwich.

 Like the old underground deejays would put on a whole side of the Grateful Dead and go outside to smoke a funny looking cigarette…

[laughing] Brilliant!

***

The Tymon Dogg Interview

 

While I was conducting my Oct. 2001 New York interview with Joe Strummer, who should stroll into the Irving Plaza dressing room but Mescaleros fiddle player Tymon Dogg. He, of course, will be familiar to anyone versed in their Clash history and recordings (particularly notorious is his solo turn on Sandinista!, “Lose This Skin”), and his association with Strummer goes back to the early ‘70s.

Dogg was brandishing a violin bow in need of serious repair. Following a lengthy discussion between Dogg, Joe Strummer and myself about bows, strings, and what a violin sounds like being played minus any strings (Dogg: “GRSNKKREKKK!”) I sat Dogg down to grill him a bit about Strummer and the Mescaleros. A friendly, low-key chap with a soft voice not unlike former Monty Python man Michael Palin, Dogg was happy to reminisce.

FRED MILLS: You two hooked back up again last year at what Joe called the Poetry Olympics, right?

TYMON DOGG: Yeah. I’d just bought a ticket. There was a flyer, a Xerox. They didn’t publicize it! Poetry people don’t – it’s a bit against the grain to publicize them. Vulgar, isn’t it, to let people know! “It’s a hidden gig!” [laughing]

JOE STRUMMER: Yeah, more than two people there and you’ve sold out. The first thing I said to him was, “Where’s the violin?” “In the car.” “Well go and get it!” So — pchhungg! [sound of a man darting off]

FM: And had you been doing bands all along? Did you have to bribe Joe to let you into the band.

TD: I’d done a couple of things ,yeah. I mostly worked on solo deals. He told me – we carried on playing until about 7 in the morning.

JS: Yeah, in the Colony Room. They say that’s the best night they’ve ever had in there. And that’s some room – a thing of the ‘40s and ‘50s, ‘60s-‘70s-‘80s-‘90s, that room.

TD: Yeah, we were going through songs we used to do and everything. I wasn’t really that aware of – we’d played together about a year before at a gig for one of our mates who’d died, in the 101ers, the bass player. We met up there. We said let’s do some music together then, and after that I’d got my son looking after him a lot. He’s 9, so I’ve spent lots of time with him. Before that I’d got stuck a bit in Spain for a couple of years and I had lost touch with quite a lot of mates. When we were in London we kept in touch, but then Joe moved out of town, I moved somewhere else. Friends scattered about the countryside with wives, babies… [Strummer, nursing a sore throat and needing to get ready for tonight’s performance, excuses himself and goes off in search of more hot tea.]

FM: So Joe just said to come down to the Mescaleros session, right?

TD: Yeah, to come put some violin down on some tracks. I left about five days later because we just slept in the studio, worked all night then crashed there. Those first four or five days, I’d never met Martin or Scott, and Pablo [Cook, drums] was there, and we only had one song. The rest were written in the studio.

 How did you find the group dynamic, or vibe, to be?

I just took it to be the way they worked. I didn’t know until after that it was kinda peculiar for them. There was “Bummed Out City” which Joe had written, he had that one. But no other music. So we just started jamming –“Gamma Ray” was one, I just started to play melodies across the chords, and it sort of worked like that, really, where a few things happened. Richard Flack was really on it. He was watching all the time, and literally if you picked up a guitar he’d be listening: “Oh, you know, maybe we should record that now!” And we were just getting little ideas as they were being written. “Johnny Appleseed” was being recorded as it was being written. Not the end result, but the actual melody. I picked up a mandolin from Scott, who was playing some chords on guitar.

 You played that on the Letterman show the other week.

Yeah, it’s an easy one to get across on TV. It’s a kind of country set up. In fact, I was picking it out on violin the other day and thinking it sounded like a banjo.

 At soundcheck I watched you guys working out “Minstrel Boy” and you were leading that. Was that something you suggested to the others?

I remember back in ’83, and I go around to Joe’s house. And he’s sitting around with a Fostex or a little tape recorder, and he had a little keyboard and a songbook that was open to “Minstrel Boy.” I knew the song because my mum used to sing it when I was a little lad. I always quite liked it. I think the lyric is 200 years old. The tune is hard to know. Somebody did write it but no one remembers so that’s why it’s called “anonymous” or “traditional.” [laughing] Or maybe a woman wrote it!

       He was sitting there with the little book, which I thought was strange because the Clash was still together. Mick had not left yet. I said, “Are you going to do that song there?” And he said, “Yeah, I’d like to.” I thought, funny song to do. I think it was a bit of a trip that Joe wanted to do that; Mick was going into hip-hop big time.

       Joe had picked up a music book in the streets of London. I was trying to get away from the studio after about 4 or 5 days. This book had “Minstrel Boy” and Joe started talking about it, and then about 2:00 in the morning he said, “Let’s go back and knock it down.” And that’s the exact recording [on the album]. In fact, that recording has me getting the violin out of the case. I’m playing it to Martin, who’d never heard it before.

 Joe told me that 22 minutes later you stopped and he said, “Okay, this goes on the album.”

Well, I’m still surprised about that. Because as I say, it’s literally getting the violin out of the case and starting the song. There’s a point that goes dah-dat-dat-dat-dat about six minutes before it ends: that was where I thought we’d started. I thought the rest was just a pure – for Martin to learn the chords.

 Sometimes the best moments happen when the tapes are rolling and no one expects it…

Well, however we explain it – it IS excessive! [smiles] In fact, quite a lot of songs we jammed for quite awhile on them. “Gamma Ray” I think is about seven minutes.

 Any songs have more rather than less of your input?

I suppose “Mondo Bongo” because I was trying to keep inside this thing of writing in the studio, but when I was leaving my house, which is about 60 miles from London, I was going to take my Spanish guitar with me and I picked it up in the kitchen and I wrote a part, thinking, “Isn’t that Peruvian? Bolivian?” Just a Spanishy-Latiny thing. I think it’s partly because my son was at the time getting into Pan-pipe music. When I got to the studio I played it for Joe.

 I can draw a pretty direct line in my mind from Sandinista! to Global A Go-Go.  There are the international sounds on that more prominent than on other Clash albums. You were present for that. What was it like recording then versus now for you?

Yeah, there’s a lot of similarities in a lot of ways. A lot of freedom. I think in some way it was already coming from Joe’s attitude. He wanted, after we did the tour with The Who – “why bother going home?” “Well, I gotta go home some time!” [laughs] It went from being – “who is this new person in the band with the violin?” – to playing that first gig with only one rehearsal.

 “By the way, you’re in the band.”

Yeah. I think, anyway, on that tour – people underestimate the listening audience. Quite often they’re a lot more sophisticated than the musicians give them credit for. And the history of music, which we’ve got more of it recorded than ever now. And the Internet can give you a lot. It seems silly now if musicians are making records to please an A&R guy and it flops, because then you end up pleasing no one. We’re lucky as a band that we’ve got someone like Joe to work with. He’s not obsessed with making the next top of the charts record.

 For the record, Joe called himself “a hack.” What were your expectations of this tour?

Too old to have expectations! But you know, expectations are sometimes a pathway to disappointment. I just get on with it and enjoy it. I just thought we’d get the record finished and see what we had. Same with every gig: what is tonight’s gig, tune in to that place and what’s happening and making the most of it.

 What do you see in the faces of the audience? Every performer wants to sneak a peek at some point and see how they’re reacting.

A lot of enthusiasm, really. Open heartedness as well. For me, ever since we did the first gig in the 100 Club, which only holds about 350 people, when Joe said we were starting with “Minstrel Boy” which at the time was still a very long piece, for the die-hard punk audience – I thought Joe was calling my bluff. “Okay, we’ll open with you and that violin playing that tune.” But it went great. We did six new songs before anyone had ever heard them. They’d only been written about five days before.

 Is this band one that automatically found its footing and got a group vibe going or did you have to let that develop as you toured?

No, I think we just got on. There’s obviously different ways people can see. Martin’s a very proficient, sensitive person who can play a lot of instruments and is quite serious about his music. But yeah, we work on things and try to give each other a buzz as well. That’s the way I see it.

 Watching soundcheck, it looked almost like you guys were getting into a Neil Young & Crazy Horse-like circle onstage. What kind of buzz do you get onstage?

Yeah, we are. Because we sort of wrote the songs from a jamming thing, now we’re doing that onstage. That’s happening onstage as well, and it’s nice. We don’t hold it down too rigid. In fact we might do different things [from the arrangements] as long as we’ve outgrown our expectation for the songs. If we’ve said, “Okay, it’s gonna be like that,” then it’s fixed. And we can always do that as a last resort. And we have parts as well, some of them we’ve only rehearsed once or twice, that we can go into.

 You’re playing guitar and fiddle onstage – what are some of the older things you enjoy?

 I don’t play on much of the older stuff. I play keyboards on “Rudie Can’t Fail,” a few chords. Which is kind of strange because I was involved with a couple of albums and I played a bit of stuff on Combat Rock and Sandinista! I dunno; Scott and Martin actually take the older stuff quite seriously inasmuch as they wanted it to sound like the record. So Joe often says to me, “Tell ‘em there was a violin on this!” [laughing]

 You encored with the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” last night – was that Ramones with a fiddle?

No, Spanish guitar. We did “London’s Burning” with a fiddle, though. When you get a violin revving away it’s quite a noise.

 Fiddle in rock ‘n’ roll is an underappreciated instrument. There was this late ‘60s band called The Flock and they had a wild man on violin.

And there was a band It’s A Beautiful Day too… Jean-Luc Ponty, some of his solo stuff was great.

 Some people cite ELO, but while the first few albums were good, they became sort of the epitome of “bloated” and wound up giving strings a bad name.

Yeah, almost this fake classical sound… Papa John Creach, with Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane… It’s a very handy instrument to have in rock. It’s small, you can get on planes. That’s one of the reasons I took it up, because I played guitar and thought, “It’s too big, this.” [laughing]

 Can you give me some impressions or memories of those early days, pre-101ers, that you and Joe shared? He said he used to collect money for you in the London subways while you were busking.

Oh yeah, there was about three years of that. When I met Joe I had a recording contract, and I did a whole tour, and even did a support gig at the Albert Hall. I was making records but I didn’t particularly like them, I was 17, 18, and they were trying to make me out like The Monkees or something. I was being played on the radio and stuff like that. But I just wanted to get away and grow up and travel, you know? My heroes were people like Dylan, Cohen, people with depth, songwriter sorts. I started hanging out in a student house, and he was crashing on the floor at the time. This was about ’71.

       I did a couple of folk gigs and Joe would always turn up. He was always in the house, dead interested in music all the time. Then we went a bit of traveling, off to visit one of our friends in Holland. On the way we’d busk to get money for dinner. And we got gigs as well.

 Could you make a living like that back then?

Well, the problem was, like, we went to Amsterdam once, and we lined up a load of gigs, about five, which is all right. But I’d always arrive penniless, just bad organization. So I’d say to Joe, “Let’s go out and play a couple of songs before the gig in the streets and then we’ll have a meal.” They [police] took the violin, basically. So Joe had to go scour the town to turn up a violin for this gig! Stuff like that happened. [laughing] Then we had to hang out in Amsterdam to get it back from the courts. Couldn’t leave it! So all the money that we had, we had to pay them back. They couldn’t allow busking, such a “free and liberal town” at the town. You could smoke pot, but no street music. I remember hitchhiking out of town with absolutely nothing again! We’d just bought the violin back.

 “Came, saw, conquered, left broke.”

Yeah, and left. On the way to Paris, a guy picked us up in a car, who was going to this big gig in Brussels, so he asked us to play in the bar while the theatre was going on. We ended up hanging out in this place in Belgium for about four days. So stuff like that was going on all the time. Going from day to day, week to week.

 Last night after soundcheck I saw a subway player, a guy doing classical violin, and I couldn’t help but think of you.

Instrumental music’s good for busking. And now they’ve got little amplifiers and stuff like that, just shrieking away. I tended to go down to London and play for about two hours, and if I played this Irish-y stuff, just instrumentals – I learned to play the violin and harmonica together – from about quarter past ten to a half after eleven when people were coming home, I’d get enough. Maybe 100 quid. But I didn’t really do much after around 1976.

***

The Mescaleros’ Martin Slattery Pays Tribute to Joe Strummer

Martin Slattery recorded and toured with Joe Strummer from 1999’s Rock Art And The X-Ray Style until Strummer’s passing. Slattery, along with his fellow Mescaleros, completed work on Strummer’s final album, Streetcore, following his death on Dec. 22, 2002. It was released in 2003 to much critical acclaim. Here, in an excerpted interview I conducted with Slattery in ‘03 not long after Strummer’s passing, the multi-instrumentalist remembers his late friend. – Fred Mills

I first met Joe in 1996, when I was playing in Black Grape. Joe was a big fan of the band. I knew of the Clash, but I didn’t really know who Joe was or what a momentous effect he had on everybody. I was talking to him and going, “Sorry mate, but what’s your name again?” Maybe that put us in good stead for the future.

It was a slow process to get to know the man. He just kept his cards close to his chest. Not in a “going in on himself” way; he was just seemingly more interested in other people and in what you had to say. That was his trip. I think it stems from a real humble streak, not just wanting to blab on about himself. He’d always be talking about other bands or other music he was into.

Obviously, Joe’s performing capability kicked everyone up a notch. A good example is playing through the tunes in rehearsal: They sounded good, but they never really came alive until Joe sang with us. There was very much the rock ‘n’ roll spirit being with Joe. One thing I’ve realized in the last couple of months is that we were in this great little world with Joe. The record company never bothered us. We always sold enough records to get through and do the next thing. It was a wonderful, wonderful time.

The last night we were in Rockfield Studios working on Streetcore, in December of 2002, everyone hit the sack about 1 a.m., but me and Joe sat up until about dawn, just talking about stuff. That night, I felt really close to him. I also had a brief chat with him on the phone a couple of days before he passed away. Just a little phone call from a mate, you know? That was what was so great about being in the band. I can genuinely say we were mates. Nobody was like, “Oh, it’s Joe Strummer!”

I haven’t a clue about Joe’s financial situation, but I know he wasn’t a millionaire. Joe could’ve made hundreds of thousands of pounds guesting on other people’s albums, showing up for this, showing up for that, but he wouldn’t do any of it. He was about creating music for himself and for him to be able to perform and give to all the people. God, the amount of people that would come backstage and say, “Joe, you changed my life… ” We never left the venue until everyone had been talked to and everyone’s records had been signed. And it wasn’t just him going, “Hey, that’s great, see you later.” We’re talking about hours. We’re talking about commitment to the whole deal — hence, why so many people feel a connection with him.

The guy bore a lot. He took a lot on his shoulders: his band, his family, hundreds of thousands of people who he felt musically responsible to. And he dealt with it amazingly. He was one of the most naturally spiritual men I’ve ever met. You read books about Daoism and stuff like that, the way it talks about going with your life: Don’t fight what’s happening, move with the world. Obviously, he fought it lyrically, but he was always cool. He moved and talked with humble authority.

Joe was into the individual: You’ve got to do what’s right for you. Which is another kind of Daoist principle. You’ve got to follow what’s in your heart and not what’s in someone else’s heart. Tuning in to your own spirit: that’s what people should take from Joe. The fact that he came from what he did. At one point, he was digging graves; at another point, he was playing at Shea Stadium. That’s the spirit of an individual: finding the self within and not relying on someone else. He did that. It was incredible — that incredible energy.

 

TUNE IN TO YOUR OWN SPIRIT: Remembering Joe Strummer (Pt.1)

The Clash icon and Mescaleros frontman passed away nine years ago today. By way of tribute, we present this story from the archives. (Go here for Pt. 2.)

BY FRED MILLS

  On December 22, 2002, unexpectedly and tragically, Joe Strummer died, apparently from a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect. I had interviewed Strummer twice in 2001, once over the phone from England and then again in person when he appeared at New York’s Irving Plaza for an October concert with his band The Mescaleros. Portions of those interviews subsequently saw publication in the Phoenix New Times and Magnet Magazine, and in a surreal twist, a few video snippets of me interviewing Strummer in NYC would turn up in the 2005 Strummer documentary Let’s Rock Again! by filmmaker Dick Rude (who I vaguely recalled having been present with a camera during the interview). At any rate, as today marks the anniversary of Strummer’s death, it seems like as reasonable a time as any to share with readers a vastly expanded version of my Strummer story, combining material from both interviews.

        Of additional note: at the end, following the Strummer interview transcript, is a short but revealing conversation with Mescaleros fiddler (and longtime Clash associate) Tymon Dogg, and that’s followed by a posthumous tribute from the Mescaleros’ Martin Slattery, who talked to me in glowing yet frank terms about his boss not long after Strummer’s death. Slattery gets in the final words, because his are, I think, the most fitting:

        “Joe was into the individual: You’ve got to do what’s right for you,” said Slattery. “You’ve got to follow what’s in your heart and not what’s in someone else’s heart. Tuning in to your own spirit: that’s what people should take from Joe.”

 ***

 Around the time of the summer 2001 release of his latest album Global A Go-Go (Hellcat Records) Joe Strummer brought his band the Mescaleros to America for a promotional tour of record stores in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. The Mescaleros played one-hour sets then stuck around to meet the fans who, needless to say, were in ample supply and eager to meet the former punk firebrand and ex-Clash vocalist/guitarist. This was to be the mere tip of the Strummer iceberg, however, because the band returned in October for a full concert trek, and I was lucky enough to see the band play and interview Strummer while I was in New York for CMJ. You’ll read what the man had to say shortly.

To backtrack a moment, however, a common misperception about Joe Strummer is that he exiled himself from the music industry after the Clash folded in the wake of a critical savaging of the post-Mick Jones Clash album Cut the Crap. (There are several books available that can give you the whole poop on the Clash including former roadie Johnny Green’s hugely entertaining  A Riot of Our Own and journalist Marcus Grey’s controversial but authoritative Last Gang in Town, recently updated and reissued as Return of the Last Gang in Town.) However, while having a markedly lower profile than during the tumultuous Clash years, Strummer hardly puttered around his garden shed, collecting royalties and regaling neighborhood kids of tales from the Great Punk Wars. In addition to taking on a number of independent film roles (Alex Cox’s punk-spaghetti western Straight to Hell and Jim Jarmusch’s Elvis-themed Mystery Train, plus the little-seen Walker and I Hired a Contract Killer) Strummer either scored or contributed songs to those films as well as Sid and Nancy, Grosse Point Blank and Permanent Record.

Work on the latter, in fact, prompted Strummer to form a new, ad-hoc combo, the Latino Rockabilly War, which went on to tour the UK in ’88 and ’89 and directly led to Strummer and LRW guitarist Zander Schloss recording Strummer’s first solo album, 1989’s Earthquake Weather. (Drummer on the LP: Red Hot Chili Peppers/Pearl Jam thumper Jack Irons.) While poorly received commercially, it was a credible slice of roots/worldbeat-flavored rock ‘n’ roll; unfortunately, Strummer’s label Sony-Epic decided a followup was not advisable. This effectively brought the solo career to a halt, Strummer subsequently engaging Sony in protracted, frustrating legal proceedings attempting to get out of his contract. Still, he kept busy in the early ‘90s, assisting in the promotion of the ’91 Clash box set Clash On Broadway, touring with The Pogues (standing in for the absent Shane MacGowan) in ’92 and ’94, even stepping into the role of producer on albums by the Pogues and his former Clash mate Mick Jones’ band Big Audio Dynamite.

Strummer did lay low a bit for the next few years, but when his Sony woes finally ended and he was free to sign with a label that not only represented artistic freedom but practically demanded that he make up for lost time no matter what direction the muse might steer him. So in ’96 Strummer began planning what would become his second solo record, billed to Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, 1999’s Rock Art and the X-Ray Style. It reflected both his ongoing fascination in trans-global musical styles (which his tenure with the Clash had reflected to a degree) as well as a newfound appreciation for techno (partly due to a short-lived but fascinating collaboration with The Grid’s Richard Norris, who produced a handful of Rock Art‘s tracks) alongside the requisite doses of straight-up rock. Highlights included the dub-funk ‘n’ roll of “Tony Adams,” the jagged dance-punk manifesto “Techno D-Day,” the Middle Eastern/hip-hop-flavored electro-trance of “Yalla Yalla” and the heartfelt soul-pop anthem “Forbidden City.” Throughout, Strummer’s lyrical stance seems to be one of inclusion, of looking around and rather than adhering across-the-board to the punk ideal of rejection, being open to the older lessons of experience and embracing those yet to come: “Took me a long time to get it/ But when it’s taken time/ You think and don’t forget it/ You gotta live in this world/ Go diggin’ the new.”

Coincidentally, the tail end of ’99 saw the release of the first-ever official Clash concert album, From Here to Eternity Live. Accompanying this were UK screenings of filmmaker Don Lett’s riveting Clash documentary Westway to the World and a surprisingly good VH1 “Legends” episode devoted to the band, followed shortly after in January ’00 by the Clash back catalog being remastered and reissued by Epic. Strummer and his former Clash partners willingly participated in the inevitable Clash media retrospectives, fueling speculation over an impending Clash reunion. Unfounded, it would turn out; after making the promotional rounds, Strummer went back to what turned out to be a busy Mescaleros touring schedule. (Worth noting, however: this past May, when the Clash received the Ivor Novello award for making an outstanding and lasting contribution to British music, all four members were on hand for the ceremony, once again setting the Clash reunion rumor mill spinning. However, Strummer told Rolling Stone that while such a move would set them up for life, financially, “You have to ask yourself, ‘Would it turn out to be good music? Would it be worthwhile in terms of making a brilliant record?’ But as long as I can keep grinding away and doing really interesting things [with the Mescaleros] I feel I’m vindicating what I’m doing.”)

Strummer next set to work on Global A Go-Go, and it came together rapidly, primarily the result of the Mescaleros gelling as a touring unit and knowing when the creative juices were at high tide. It elaborates fluently upon the musical and lyrical themes of its predecessor. It kicks off with a stunning triple-punch: the vibrant, Pogues-like grooves of “Johnny Appleseed” (about, tellingly, a punk rock Pied Piper/Robin Hood character aiming to undermine corporate culture); the Latino-ska rocker “Cool ‘n’ Out” (the mix is a violent stew of vocal samples, saw howls and fretboard explosions); and the title cut, a slice of reggaefied hip-hop-o-delica (featuring guest vocalist Roger Daltrey) that sends shout-outs to everything from Marconi, Buddy Rich and Quadrophenia to Bo Diddley, Baaba Maal and the Stooges. From there the album continues to hit the high notes, including the kinetic, multicultural tolerance-plea “Bhindi Bhagee,” the Spanish guitar-flecked Latin ballad “Mondo Bongo” and a sensual dub-reggae lament for the world’s dispossessed nomads called “At The Border, Guy.” There’s even an 18-minute traditional Celtic number, “Minstrel Boy,” which effectively extends the disc’s playing time to its reasonable maximum of 73 ½ minutes.

On the album the Mescaleros include Scott Shields (guitar), Pablo Cook (percussion), Martin Slattery (keyboards) and Tymon Dogg (violin); plus Strummer’s co-producer and trusty studio foil Richard Flack. The touring lineup adds bassist Simon Stafford and drummer Luke Bullen (subbing for Cook). And as I witnessed in person in NYC, the Mescaleros are a powerhouse, to say the least, adaptable to a plethora of musical styles and amply armed for the challenge that the material on the album presents.

In fact, Global has already generated enthusiastic reviews from corners as diverse as NPR, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Andy Warhol’s Interview and Britain’s Uncut. The positive response to both it and Rock Art has been a pleasant surprise for Strummer, who additionally remarked to Rolling Stone, of his relatively slow-starting solo career, “I realized what I’ve done is save the best for last, which is a brilliant maneuver. I did it by accident, though. Rather than burn out earlier, taking [time] off has turned out to be a not bad idea at all. When the Clash broke up it sort of all fell apart and perhaps that was quite good for my artistic ability, which was a good thing for me at least.”

Well said, Joe. Needless to say, I was thrilled to talk to the man, having ranked both Mescaleros album in my annual top ten lists without reservation. (Long-time Clash fanboy alert here too. Bootleg collectors and traders, get in touch.)

Incidentally, following the Strummer interview is the transcript of my conversation with Tymon Dogg. The fiddle player wandered into the dressing room at Irving Plaza towards the tail end of my conversation with Strummer, so I promptly placed him in the hotseat, and he seemed glad to chat.

Okay, let the games begin.

**

FRED MILLS: What are you listening to lately?

JOE STRUMMER: Strokes.

 Any hot tips out of England?

No. [laughs] I don’t know, I’m out on the road.

 One of the things I’m interested in is the artist-fan relationship — the way fans invest a lot emotionally in their heroes, and how kids in particular emulate them. Patti Smith, for example, told me that she felt the one of the artist’s responsibilities is to offer a shoulder to lean on, to illuminate the common threads in our lives. That’s a role model viewpoint.  Yet a lot of public people – sports figures especially — are uncomfortable shouldering that responsibility. How do you feel about the role model issue?

I don’t agree. Just because you’re good in some particular area and you excel in that area, you’re not walking around as if you had a big jacket on saying, ‘Do as I do. Do as I say. Follow me.’ A sports guy’s good at shooting the hoop. I don’t see why he can’t go downtown and get harebrained outta his box like everyone else, y’know? Why are you hogging it all for yourself? There was a rugby guy in England, and after a tour they were busted taking Ecstasy and cocaine in a nightclub. I looked at that and thought, after 25 matches, and they won ‘em all, at the end of tour, why can’t they? Everyone else does! If it were some annual company jamboree, people get pissed out of their heads.

 And the kids? You’re a parent yourself.

You’re talking about Keith Richards and heroin, aren’t you?

 Yes, to an extent. However, recently there’s been a heightened industry sensitivity regarding artists in rehab, responsibility towards kids, that sort of thing.

It’s complete bollocks. Look. [leaning forward, putting guitar down] You’re born a certain way. You inherit it from your father. If your folks were great drinkers, ten to one you’re gonna be a great drinker yourself. So all of this is a load of bollocks. People are a lot more complex than, hey, they see someone doing it, why don’t they do it too? I can see the point when heroin was chic; before people realized how dangerous heroin was. Maybe there’s quite a few junkies in the world who thought, “Well, I’ll try that because heroin looks hip.”

 Did you have a hero?

Bo Diddley. He’s the one, yeah.

 Did you ever subscribe to the notion that to some, you’re a spokesperson for the Punk generation? People continually ask your opinion of British politics in interviews.

[dismissively] I’m not a spokesperson. Never was to anybody. They can hose off, man. I mean it. That’s a load of horseradish. And I don’t have any opinions about British politics. I resent being asked about anything. I’m quite happy not being asked about anything. [pointing to guitar] I’m happy to get that box and figure out something to do with it. I get rid of my opinions! Because some clever guy said, ‘If you have opinions, you cannot see.’ Meaning that opinions will kind of horseblinker you to see the truth about any situation. [laughing] Opinions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on!

 What about issues that hit closer to home, then? Artists’ rights and contractual matters are a hot topic these days, and you’ve had your battles with Sony, solo and with the Clash.

Our fault. We signed that paper.

 But how old were you when you signed it?

Maybe 21.

 That’s not necessarily something you think about at the time.

There’s plenty of smart 21 year olds, man, I’m telling you. There was no one grabbing my hand and saying, “Sign that paper.” I could’ve gotten a decent lawyer to read it. Hey, any intelligent man would have done that. Not us, man. That was exceedingly dumb, but that was the way the world was. Maybe they capitalized on our eagerness and all that, y’know? But on the other hand, they got our records all around the world.

 Perhaps we’ve reached a point now where genuinely artistic, creative people shouldn’t expect to find good homes with majors — at Sony you basically went on strike and waited things out – so would you tell musicians to go with indies like Hellcat?

Yeah, [with Sony] I waited it out until my hot potato had grown cold. [laughing] And so they went, “Ahh — pffft!” You gotta look at the small print, y’know? Hellcat’s sympathetic to my cause – it’s a label where the people there actually like music. It’s not just a commodity. You’ve gotta go for the [artistic] freedom. Without it you’re scuppered. And I already spent enough time trying to get out from under deals, which are quite complex with a corporation. Just to even get ‘em to address the problem takes a few years! Nevermind getting the paperwork out of it. So I wouldn’t be at all into getting back to that. If there is a young musician reading my guff, he’ll get the picture because I put it pretty straight.

       It’s the George Michael argument that every musician should know about – there ought to be a book about that case! —  which is basically, THEY are gonna want you to stay at whatever lucrative part of your career where they signed you. THEY are not interested in the development of the artist or having him change. So George is saying, ‘You can’t expect me to stay at my 18-year old songs now that I’m 34.’ And yet THEY want to force him to stay where he’s most well-known so they can make some bucks. The point is, you can’t force someone to do something like that.

       You know, in that case, I did wonder if someone got to the judge. Because the whole industry would’ve unpeeled if George had got out of that contract. It would have led to a huge unraveling! I wonder why the judge found for the label, because George had righteousness on his side there, y’know?

  Now what if you’d gone to Hellcat and said, “Guys, actually, I’m gonna pull a Sandinista! here on you. I want to put out a triple LP, 2-CD set…” Would they have done a CBS on YOU?

[laughing loudly] That’s a great question! I dunno… if you had a double’s worth of tunes to back it up, maybe they’d go for it!

 Is it true that if you, Mick and Paul set foot in a studio, it’s called The Clash and you’re automatically on Sony.

Yeah, that’s a contractual thing. [disgustedly] And –it – will – never – expire. Because it states if two or three of us get together… that’s The Clash. No choice.

What’s your opinion on Clash and Mescaleros bootlegs? You should take charge and market your archives over the Internet like Pete Townshend does.

Yeah, that’s a good point. Thank you! If you heard some of them and you liked what you heard, you could recommend it: “This is pretty good…”  I’m in touch with this guy in Italy who’s sort of the king of collectors, if you like, and I’m quite pleased he has all these recordings when it comes down to it, you know what I mean?

 Tell me what it was like when the four of you from the Clash jointly received the Ivor Novello 2000 award for “Lasting Contribution to British Music” and Pete Townshend presented it to you.

Yeah, yeah, Pete was there. And Pete Townshend to give you the award, that made it really mean something, you know? It wasn’t like some fat cat. He said, ‘Your music sucks but here’s your award anyway!’ No, he said, ‘Well done, lads.’

 Was that Pete namechecked in the middle of “Minstrel Boy,” on Global, kinda low in the mix?

That’s it! You must have ears like a bat! You’re the only person apart from me that knows it’s on there!

F: I missed it the first few listens. Also, when I got my advance of the CD for review, it had no credits, but of course I spotted Roger Daltrey’s voice on the title cut and at the time I wondered if that was a Who sample or if you’d blackmailed Daltrey into appearing on your record!

In the end it was a breeze. We’d been booked to support the Who on a British tour in November. Roger began to hang out with us as we ran up and down. He knew we were recording, so one night he said, “Hey, if you want me to come by I’d be more than pleased to do that.” I said, “Sure, come on down, and let’s get out the mics and sing!” So it was an invitation from him – he made the offer.

 That was great. That makes all the people who are too cool to like a so-called dinosaur band like the Who kinda scratch their heads and go… huh?

True yeah. We can’t have any of that kind of purism. Let’s give the kudos to where they’re due, c’mon! The Who in anybody’s books must be great, with a body of work that fantastic.

 The October Mojo included two Clash songs in their “100 Punk Scorchers” list, with “White Riot” at number four behind the Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and the Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat.”

Goddam it! Insulting, ain’t it? [smiling] No, I like the Damned, really!

 When the media drags out its perennial Punk retrospectives, do you groan and go, “Reporters will be calling again, wanting to know about 1977…”?

I have to ignore it! Yeah, because every time an anniversary comes up, they always get around to the old [in pinched, nasal voice], “So, what does Punk Rock mean to you?” I did have an answer at one time, after 58 times. Can’t remember what it was now. Yeah, you just want to scream.

 Um, that was my next question. Nevermind. I’m leaving now… On another topic, what did you think of your ex-roadie Johnny Green’s Clash book, A Riot of Our Own?

I LIKE Johnny Green’s book! It seems to capture to me the feeling in the air like it was. You’re reading the story as it happened, and it’s nice how it actually conveys what it was like at the time. That book somehow captures something. It’s entertaining for starters. And it’s short! [laughs]

 The Westway to the World movie comes off as very honest too….

Yeah, that’s Don Letts there, who was part of the scene anyway at the time. He was perfectly placed to do that and I think he did great. I wouldn’t have liked to try that!

 I noticed that Westway to the World is now coming out on DVD with extra footage, with the Clash on Broadway film included. That originally hit the British theaters around the same time as the live Clash album, and shortly after the Clash remasters appeared too. Was it coincidence that the first Mescaleros album was released around then too? Because it was fortuitous from a standpoint of promoting your record. When doing the Clash-related interviews, did you want to say, “Oh, and guys, I got this little solo album too…”

It was totally accidental. That live album had been simmering on the backburner for two-three years so it just happened to lurch out. And in the interviews, I don’t bother. You just gotta fight your way through.

 And right now there’s this new Clash book by photographer Bob Gruen, who I met yesterday. I brought these photo samples from it that Q magazine ran this month.

[looking at the photos excerpted in current issue of Q pointing at a stage shot] Yeah, that was a good one. Great shot. Bob is lovely, isn’t he?

 Will you ever put a boycott on the Clash inquiries?

No, no, just carry on. [grinning at me] Don’t you want to know when the Clash are going to get back together?

 I know the answer… Back in, say, 1966, we didn’t think rock ‘n’ rollers should be playing past age 30 — now there’s a book out called Rock ‘til You Drop, and one of its main theses is that 50somethings look ridiculous hopping around onstage and maybe they should just go sit on barstools and play the blues.

Not a bad idea! That’s what Johnny Ramone thinks! No, I think you should just get on with it. Look at Paul Newman. And the Sufis think people get better, y’know? Why should we assume people get worse? Just because everybody makes loads of cruddy albums, hah-heh-heh!

 I was watching old Clash videos and noticed how the three of you would form this frontline, shoulders all kind of moving in the same rhythm. Is that same kind of onstage chemistry coming through for you now? What do you get out of being onstage in 2001? Do you have needs or expectations different from two decades ago?

Erm, every day is a new day, isn’t it? So I just look forward to it. It’s the same as in the old days. I narrowly missed the other night getting hit by a twizzling mosher, you know when they hold him up in a ball over the crowd, then they twizzle and their legs kick out frantically. But it’s more or less the same as it ever was. I did a gig once with just one man in the room. So since that gig you’re just glad that people are there, you know? Once you’ve done a few gigs like that with one man in the room – and that man was asleep! – you appreciate the crowds.

        Every day’s a new day, really. And you can’t walk around with expectations. I don’t like to know where we’re going, actually. Because you always end up somewhere interesting. If you have a specific aim or target, and then you arrive at that point – whatever, the creation of a project, some sort of – it’s like, boring! You’re gonna end up there – and finally you end up there! There’s no fun in that somehow, is there? There’s no surprise in it. There’s no chance in it. This is a construction of chaos, really. We shamble around; God knows how we put it together! But I think we’ve got something good rolling along here. We enjoy playing live, and we all get along. You get your juices going, you get out, you gather ‘round the world again, you see the people you meet and you talk to people – it’s a very stimulating experience in total, y’know?

 One musician told me being on tour was like being in a fishtank, and when he gets home the tank is drained of water and he’s left standing there trying to remember how to breathe.

It is strange. There should be a detox unit, a decompression chamber for about four days in some camp. Maybe I’ll start up a camp!

 Captain Joe’s…

…Decompression Camp! Four days. Put ‘em in a black room with a television.

 What kinds of people are coming to your shows? I picture grey-haired punks in Mohawks…

Mostly they’re truck drivers, a-hah-heh-heh! Yeah, any people, really. Quite a cross section are digging the music. Quite a wide age group.

 When you look at the audience, what do you see in the faces looking up at you?

Hatred. [laughs] No, just people grooving around, you know? I did a gig once with just one man in the room. So since that gig you’re just glad that people are there, you know? Once you’ve done a few gigs like that with one man in the room – and that man was asleep! – you appreciate the crowds.

 Are there times when you’re ill, or in a bad mood, and you really have to work hard to gear up to the point where you can give these people something they paid for?

Yeah, and that’s one of the real – then you feel like you’ve learned something, when you can overcome something like ‘I don’t feel like it.’ If you can overcome that AND do a good show, then you’re really learned something. Mood has a lot to do with it.

 I noticed last night you were fretting about the time left before the venue doors were to be opened and that The Slackers might not get a proper soundcheck. You told your road manager to hold the doors until they did. Yet some musicians take the attitude, ‘Five years ago I got treated like shit, now it’s their turn to get treated like shit.’

That’s idiotic. People are nuts. See, when you’re being crudded upon by others, you say to yourself, ‘One day when it’s my turn, the support band’s always gonna get one.’ Because you live and learn what it’s like to be in that position. ‘Sorry, you can’t get a check because Waffleface has got [in whiny/superior voice] to mend his fuzzbox!’ You know? So you think – pffft, when it’s my turn, I’m gonna make sure. There’s lots of aimless soundchecks. They could go on for days if no one didn’t go, ‘Cuuuut!’

 The back design of your album reminds me of the X-Ray Spex album cover Germ Free Adolescents. Just a kind of subliminal thing…

Oh yeah, I remember that. I must find that and have a look.

 You need to make those lighters your accessories to sell at concerts… Okay, give me your spot impressions of your band members. Start with Richard Flack – he’s just in the studio with you, right?

Yeah. I’ve tried to get him out on the road, but he’s a backburner man. He’s a backroom genius – I couldn’t think of recording without him I think the band is fantastic, really. If it’s to do with “criminal matters” like breaking back into a club because we left something inside, then Simon Stafford, the bassman is the one for sordid matters like that. Then our “spiritual guru” is Martin Slattery, piano-guitar man. And if you just wanna trade insults, Scott Shield’s your man. Luke Bullen is “knock on wood,” if you know what I mean. [drums on the dressing table]. And for a new slant on things, Tymon Dogg’s your man. He’s inventing new ways to make Beethoven nervous. I’d started to play at these evenings called “Poetry Olympics.” They’re kinda like beatnik evenings, in the spirit of. Tymon dropped by one of these; I hadn’t seen him in years. I says to him, “Hey, where’s the violin?” And he said, “About a mile away in the back of the car.” I said, “Go get it!” He came running back with it just in time for our slot so we did a bit of jamming on some nice tunes. And then I just invited him in to the session we were having the following day. He sort of drifted into the session, and then into the group. For me, it’s a laugh, because I started out collecting money for him [in the early ‘70s] when he was busking in the London Underground. That was my start in the music world.

 And of yourself? You’ve got one of the most distinctive voices in rock, like Dylan or Neil Young.

No, Neil’s got a pair of pipes on him. You couldn’t put him in the growling category. [My voice] is so out of tune it sticks out. I’m the sore thumb of larynxes. It’s awful. It stinks. Once I was phoning up some friends in LA in 1988, this long list because I was doing a show, of people I’d met. I rang Jesse Dylan’s number and went, ‘Ahh, Jesse…’ And he went, ‘Oh, hi Dad.’ It took me by surprise – otherwise I should have said, ‘Go and tidy your room.’ [laughing] But “distinctive” is code word for “cruddy,” admit it.

 Making the new album, judging from the shared songwriting credits, you took a more democratic approach compared to the last one, which was more a Strummer-Anthony Genn collaboration.

Well, Anthony pissed off to make his own group, called Help, and make his own record. So that left a kind of vacuum. I was interested to see how it would affect our dynamic, so Scott and Martin kind of stepped into that vacuum, if you like. And it was great; it was like working in the old days. We had slotted into the studio for a five-day session before [going out on tour with] The Who. It just started to happen, and your antenna goes up when you know that you’re on a roll. Then we were out on the road following that. We just went straight back in after and kept the ball rolling. It was a very strange session afterwards, a real breeze – a nice one to be at.

 Now, “Cool n Out,” that would be a bit older because it still has Anthony Genn credited, right?

Yeah, that started really at the end of the last [album’s] session. Starting to jam that furious riff out on the guitar. But it was just too late to make it onto the record. So we sampled some of ourselves playing on the last record, and Scott put the guitar riff on it. Then it kinda laid dormant for awhile until we came back to the studio and that was one piece we knew was in the cupboard even though it was only a loop and a riff, really, going on for about 12 minutes in a straight line.

Well, you could have used the whole 12 minutes and made it a 95 minute album instead of a 73 minute album! Was that what you started out to do, make an album that filled up an entire CD?

No. I said to the guys let’s record “Minstrel Boy.” I was thinking it could come in useful as a B-side, and I may have specified doing it for about 3 ½ minutes. The guys started playing – and stopped 21 minutes and 22 seconds later! [laughs] I said, ‘That’s great!’ Everybody else probably thought I’d lost my mind. So we left it like that for the time being. But as we began to reel off the final mixes and build up the album, I began to think – how long? A vinyl album is only 23 minutes a side. Say, 46 minutes before you begin to lose sound quality. But these CDs are 73 ½ minutes capacity, so I thought, well, whatever we’ve done, we’ll stack the tunes up, and whatever time’s left we’ll dedicate to “Minstrel Boy.”

It’s a very dense album, lyrically. Closer to a rapper’s style than rock ‘n’ roll. Had you worked out the words beforehand?

 I had pieces of “Bummed Out City” –mostly what it is now, but just in bits in pieces. That’s about the only thing that was on the deck. The guys would start to make the music, get the tunes going, and I’d use that to inspire me, to get inspired by the atmosphere inside each tune.

   I think if you’re gonna write a lyric you really got to think about it. It’s too much for one person to do the tune and the lyric. Sometimes, if you’re lucky. But in the main, I like the Rodgers and Hammerstein method, or the two Gershwins, or those two lunatics who wrote Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert and Sullivan.

 PBS had a special on songwriters recently, and practically every classic song from the ‘50s and ‘60s era it covered was penned by a duo.

Yeah? Well, all right – Lieber and Stoller. This is good. There are geniuses like Hank Williams or Bob Dylan, these people who come along once in awhile. But for the rest of us I think it’s really good when you have the two, three, four, five guys working on it. It’s always different. Whereas if you leave it all to one person, after awhile it’ll be in the same box.

 Does your method ever lead you down a path of excess where you turn around to find you’ve been riffing on a progression that went nowhere?

Well, that happens every day, what do you mean! [laughs] Yeah, and then we put it out on the record! We even considered shortening some of the other songs to get more of “Minstrel Boy” on!

 Musical themes that crop up: does someone say, okay, I have this Celtic thing here, and the next guy says, let’s get this dub thing going here…

No – we don’t talk. Which, it seems to me, there need not be any discussion. People just kind of grunt. Like, you’ll say [shrugs shoulder, furrows brow], “Nggg.” You don’t like it. Or – [relaxes shoulders, softens face] “Mmmggg.” That means it’s probably really great. You have the facial stuff going too. Grunting seems to be the perfect way.

 Like cavemen. Were there any “happy accidents” that you caught while the tape recorders were rolling?

The whole thing was a happy accident! Because it wasn’t planned. And you can’t do that every time. Only a maniac would walk forward like that, into a studio. Costs a lot if it didn’t happen – you’d be in the hole. I think you’ve gotta have a kind of vibe going to avoid it getting “sticky.” You know that horrible moment that always happens when you stick on a bit, keep going over and over it. A smart operator just hops over it and carries on. You’ve gotta feel like you’re achieving, haven’t you, to keep the morale up. You can’t have it stuck on something. Because it’s a very morale thing, making a record. You’ve gotta believe you can do something good.

   But we’re pretty into what we do. People are either right in the room or asleep on the floor in the next room. We recorded in a very small studio on the outer suburbs of London because the rate is better. And it gives us more freedom to experiment, because in the city center you’re much too nervous – the rate would be three times what we pay out on the edge.

 Any songs on the album stand out in your mind as really capturing the Mescaleros vibe?

I got no idea, Fred. We don’t know what we’re doing! Honestly, if we had any idea, we wouldn’t do it, or it probably wouldn’t be doable. But I think there’s too much thinking going on in the world – too much forward brain.

 Too much calculation.

Yeah.

 Yet at some point you’ve got to say, okay, time to let intuition fall away and bring in the craft. When do you know when you’ve got enough and it’s time to move on to the next stage – When do you know you’ve really nailed it?

Hmm…. [thinking a long while] Maybe it’s when it gets to the point where you’ve added something and you recognize it as superfluous. And then gradually the realization sinks in that maybe it’s kind of cool like it is. That kind of sideway, crablike approach to things – you’ve gotta crab up to the side of things and not startle ‘em.

 With two albums and several tours in two years, does it feel like you’re on a creative roll?

Yeah, I think so. Just show us a studio and we’ll be in there like wrapped up a drainpipe. If we can keep it together I think we could do it and really hit some music. That’s what I hope, anyway. Going with the vibe seems to be the way we do things. It suits everyone. Maybe that’s why we’re still on the road even two years after we started, which is quite an achievement.

 A lot of musicians claim to be mere vessels through which music is channeled from some higher energy or power: do you think of yourself and an “artist,” in quotes?

[standing up] I don’t think along those bollocks, man. You’re out of your mind! Horseradish. You gotta think of it, you gotta beat it outta your brain! [slapping his head] You can’t sit around thinking like that! What are they – they’ve had too many crisps! I think of myself as a hack. Because, one, it’s true. Two, it stops you from getting hi-faulting’ notions – above your station. And three, you’re just a hack anyway! I look in the mirror and go, “Hack! Hack! Hi hack! How’s it hanging today!” Honestly, the people out there who are true geniuses, they are the ones putting little circuits together, operating on people’s brains, you know? I mean, we’re kind of on the level of crossword puzzle writers. Compilers of crossword puzzles. And no one ever goes to them and gives them an award. Do you think they’ve got a crossword puzzle writer’s dinner and annual award? Do you think all the crossword puzzle writers get together in Florida once a year? If they do, I wanna be there! [laughs]

 There’s probably an Internet newsgroup of them at least…

Yeah, let’s dial up the crosswords —  www.crossword.com!

 At any rate, people listening to your music do attach an emotional component to it.

Okay, that’s true. But what I mean is that it’s like a knack. Some guys can play helicopters, but they can’t play football.

 So should we strive to bring artists down to earth? You’ve said that in the Clash you guys had become ‘corporate revolutionaries’ or something to that effect?

Well, if people’s platform heels get too high, yeah. There are some people that are probably geniuses, like we mentioned Hank Williams or Bob Dylan. But yeah, that’s why it had to stop. Because, you begin, right? And it all makes sense – “Yeahhh!” But then five years later you’re kinda professionally paid to be a rebel, which is insane. Isn’t that a conundrum? It’s truly insane.

        And I realized that it was only going to get worse. Say we’d gotten as big as U2 – we would have been insane! I could certainly see that life from now on would only be – “Photo shoot. Do the interview. Go to the video shoot. Go do another interview. Fly to Rio. Play the Asshole Stadium. Come back in a helicopter.” And all the time you’re suppose to try and write something real, or think real, or get through to real people – or “keep it real,” as they say. In-fucking-impossible.

        I’ve had plenty of time to think about it.

To be continued… tomorrow, in Pt. 2, our Strummer interview wraps up, with JS discussing his film career, 9/11, and more. That’s followed by 2001 and 2003 interviews with Mescaleros members Tymon Dogg and Martin Slattery.

THEY AIN’T DEAD YET Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers

With a new, definitive live album just out, it’s
time to take a fresh look at one of America’s greatest (and
Springsteen-approved) rock ‘n’ roll institutions.

 

BY REV. KEITH GORDON

 

It must
suck to be you, because if you’ve never witnessed the power and the glory that
is a live performance by Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, then you haven’t really
walked on the wild side! The Reverend remembers one memorable Houserockers
performance in Nashville back around ’95, Joey G and the boys bum rushing the
Music City, rolling into town for a live radio broadcast from a local speakeasy
that may have blown out a few transistors down at Radio Lightning.

 

The five-man
gang was crammed onto a corner stage so damn small that it’s doubtful you could
park a Mini-Cooper in the middle and still have room to climb out. It looked
like the inside of a clown car, but there was nothing funny about the
destruction that the Houserockers leveled upon Nashville that weeknight. With a grand total
of three people in the club who had the foggiest notion of who they were watching
perform, and another 100 or so that were there to get a cheap drunk on,
Grushecky and the Houserockers performed like they thought they were damn rock
stars and, on that night, they were indeed the greatest rock ‘n’ roll outfit on
the planet.

 

When the
unseen walls of the stage became too restrictive, Joe jumped on top of our
front-of-the-stage table and laid down a solo on the Stones’ “Gimme
Shelter” that was so bad-ass that it would have had Keith Richards hiding
beneath his bed sheets for months. Knocking down two hour-plus long sets, the
audience may not have known who the band was coming in, but they sure as hell
knew who they were by the end of the night…and that’s always been the unspoken
mantra of the Houserockers wherever they play live – come in hard and heavy, or
don’t go onstage at all.

 

Perhaps
the last true believers in rock ‘n’ roll as salvation, Joe Grushecky and the
Houserockers are lifers, working day jobs and howling at the moon in clubs at
night. It’s somehow fitting that the only significant personnel change
experienced by the band since its formation out of the ashes of the Iron City
Houserockers back in 1988, almost a quarter-century ago, was waiting for
Grushecky’s son Johnny to grow old enough to join the band.

 

The core
of the Houserockers – singer, songwriter, and guitarist Grushecky, bassist Art
Nardini (who’s been by Joe’s side since the early 1970s), drummer Joffo
Simmons, and keyboardist Joe Pelesky – has developed an unparalleled chemistry
over the course of two-and-a-half decades and better than a half-dozen studio
albums. Still, aside from furtively-traded bootleg tapes, this most independent
of indie-rock bands (they haven’t had a real label deal in 15 years) had only
been captured live on disc once
before now, on 1999’s excellent Down The
Road Apiece Live
.

 

The band’s new
We’re Not Dead Yet (Schoolhouse Records; available at Grushecky’s website) ups the ante with
two CDs and twenty-one songs, only three of which duplicate songs from Down The Road Apiece Live, and most of
which are long-time staples of the Houserockers’ live set. Recorded at the New Hazlett
Theater in the band’s Pittsburgh hometown during a two-night stand back in September, We’re
Not Dead Yet
mixes material from the Houserockers’ fleeting,
late-1980s/early-1990s major label era albums like 1991’s Swimming With The Sharks and 1995’s American Babylon with tunes from indie
releases that you’ve likely never heard of like 2009’s East Carson Street or the 2006 Grushecky-solo-album-in-name-only A Good Life.

 

More
interesting to we few long-time Grushecky fanatics, though, are the
brain-numbing morsels of Iron City Houserockers’ material to be found on We’re Not Dead Yet, from the defiant
title track (more about which later) to long-lost-and-left-for-dead gems like
“Pumping Iron,” “Have A Good Time…But Get Out Alive,”
“Junior’s Bar,” and their jaunty cover of “Hideaway.” But
first We’re Not Dead Yet opens with
the title track from East Carson Street,
a pensive mid-tempo rocker that, lyrically, covers more heavy emotional turf in
three minutes or so than Joe’s bud Bruce has managed over the course of his
last three albums. The guitars sparkles, the sentiments ring true, and the
claustrophobic wall of sound behind Grushecky’s literally explodes out of your
speakers by the second verse.

 

By the
time that the band rocks its way into “American Babylon,” the title
track from the album of the same name, they have the punters hanging off the
rafters. The song’s “troubled by these days and times” lyrical theme
is reinforced by a fierce soundtrack that is reveals a slightly funkier
rhythmic groove via Joffo than on the original album. Grushecky’s vocals snarl
and growl like a caged beast, and the societal turmoil expressed by the lyrics
is, sadly, as real today as it was sixteen years ago when Joe wrote the song.
Grushecky isn’t all doom-and-gloom, however, and songs like “I’m Not
Sleeping” (co-written with Springsteen) and “Coming Home”
display the full range of Grushecky’s enormous songwriting skills, the master
story-teller delivering tales that speak positively to the human condition and
capture the listener’s imagination.

 

Looking at
the signed album cover hanging on my wall, Rock
and Real
really should have been a smash hit back in the day, and the
band’s stellar remembrance of it here features shimmering guitars, hard-hitting
drums, and an undeniable bass line that muscles in behind Grushecky’s romantic
plea. “I Always Knew” is an often-forgotten gem from the songwriter’s
deep, rich catalog of songs, a muscular rocker with uncompromising spirit,
percussive drums, washes of guitar, and a heavy rhythm that combines a hard
rock heartbeat with a bit of Memphis soul.

 

Two
vintage Iron City Houserockers tunes finish up disc one, “Pumping
Iron” a strutting, Southern rock-styled rocker with serpentine guitars
twisting themselves into knots, a propulsive rhythm, and a bit of twang in
Grushecky’s Steel City brogue, the song itself a story wrapped up in a
metaphor, hidden behind an ode to Pittsburgh’s mean streets. Introduced by Joe
as “the closest we ever came to having a hit record,” the obscure
Fred & the Fredettes early-rock classic “Hideaway” sounds all the
world like a Houserockers original, with Grushecky’s yearning vocals, trembling
twin guitars, blistering drumbeats, and an overall innocence that is lacking
from much of today’s rock ‘n’ roll.

 

Another
vintage track, “Swimming with the Sharks,” kicks off disc two with an
chaotic din, drums crashing and guitars ringing as the band launches right into
the unbridled rocker. Grushecky’s low-slung vocals are driven by a locomotive
rhythm, the band’s backing harmonies add to the gang-fight vibe, and rather
than clubbing you over the head, the guitars hit your ears like a stiletto slid
between the ribs. Grushecky gets the crowd involved with some shouts and
handclaps, rolls into a stream-of-consciousness rant that quotes John Lee
Hooker, and finishes big with a razor-blade-on-eardrums guitar solo that
performs an aural exorcism and chases all those evil thoughts of cheesy pop
music right out of your pretty lil’ head.

 

By contrast,
“Everything’s Gonna Work Out Right” is a mid-tempo romantic
affirmation of life and love that offers some Little Stevie Forbert-styled
harmonica blasts, Simmons’ energetic, high-in-the-mix drums, and Grushecky’s
gravel-throated but charming vocals. Another East Carson Street track, “Chasing Shadows,” pretty much
sums up Grushecky’s life-is-grand philosophy, delivering a positive (and wise)
message hidden inside a crash-and-bang rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack brimming over
with laser-sharp guitars (I swear that one solo reminds me of Duane Eddy),
jackhammer drumbeats, and an overall joyous noise that will have you tapping
your feet in spite of yourself.

 

“Dark
and Bloody Ground” is one of the best of Grushecky’s recent Springsteen
collaborations, a historical story-song with disturbing lyrics that hit your
brain like a pointy stick. The smothering instrumentation swirls like a
rampaging tornado behind Grushecky’s blue-hued vocals, guitars conflicting with
the drums, voices shouting out in the darkness, the powerful message reminding
us that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Another
Bruce co-write, the award-winning “Code of Silence,” is slighter in
nature, but only slightly ’cause the instruments still collide like exploding
stars, Grushecky’s vocals strain to rise above the stunning fretwork, which
itself rises with the drums to a malevolent crescendo of noise and fury.

 

A couple
of the Rev’s favorite Iron City Houserockers songs are reprised to good effect.
“Have a Good Time…But Get Out Alive” was a sort of motto for my biker
buddies and myself back in the 1980s, a street-smart tale of youthful energy
and stupidity with whip-smart lyrics and a blustery backdrop of loud-and-proud
guitars, bass, and drums. On the I.C Houserockers’ sophomore album,
“Junior’s Bar” is prefaced by the wonderfully melancholy “Old
Man’s Bar”; delivered here, it’s a joyous ode to freedom sans context, but
it still rocks like a house on fire.

 

The song’s
bittersweet angst is barely hidden behind Grushecky’s deceptively forlorn vocals and the bouncy
instrumentation, the idea of that place where everybody knows your name a
fleeting notion once they “kill the neon lights.” It’s an
unrecognized rock ‘n’ roll classic with more brains and brawn that anything you’ll
hear on the radio these days. We’re Not
Dead Yet
closes out with “A Good Life,” from the album of the
same name, and this album’s title track comes from the aforementioned I.C.
Houserockers’ second effort.

 

The former
is a delightful celebration of the seemingly mundane treasures in our life –
kids, pets, a loving wife – that we too often take for granted. It’s every bit
as defiant as “We’re Not Dead Yet,” a working class credo that states
authoritatively that you can be happy where you are. The latter song,
“We’re Not Dead Yet,” is sort of like the Black Knight in the Monty
Python movie, a spit in the eye at everybody who would conspire to keep us
down, keep us broke, keep us unhappy and strapped to the yoke. Grushecky spits
out the lyrics with punkish intensity and speed, barely heard above the
gathering stormfront as he shouts “don’t count us out, we’re not dead
yet!”

 

The twin
father/son guitars strike your ears like rigid black lightning, the cascading
drumbeats bounce around your brain like thunderclaps, the throbbing bass floods
your senses, and only the keyboards offer a semblance of sanity. This is rock
‘n’ roll as redemption, rock music as catharsis, rocking just for the hell of
it, and a snarling, grinning, gnashingly defiant message that was written long
before anybody ever thought of the “1%” or occupying anything, a
primal howl up from the streets from those of us down in the gutters, the bars,
the back alleys of America wondering where our slice of the damn pie is going
to come from. In Grushecky’s hands, however, the song says “we’ve already
won, because we’re STILL here!” It’s rock ‘n’ roll as survival, and nobody
has done it so well, or for so long, as Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers.

 

Grushecky
and his bandmates are blue collar rockers who may never hit the top of the
charts, or be noticed much at all by the unwashed masses mindlessly chasing
after the next American Idol winner.
They don’t demand your respect so much as they earn it every time they walk out
on the stage. We’re Not Dead Yet is
the definitive live document of this underrated band, and if you’re looking for
some old-school rock ‘n’ roll cheap thrills that will rattle the plaster off
your walls and won’t make you cringe in embarrassment, look no further than Joe
Grushecky and the Houserockers.  

BLURT PRESENTS THE GOODS: Christmas Gift Card ‘n’ Exchange Guide, 2011 Edition

Forget the holiday gift and product guides – we’ve got
some ideas for exchange items and gift card pick-ups. You can thank us later…

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

‘Tis better to give than to
receive, yeah. But if we’re bein’ honest here? Loot kicks booty. Everybody
likes to re-up their worldly possessions, and there’s nothing like getting lost
in brand-new somethings to make you forget the stress of maxing out the credit
cards on behalf of everybody else.

 

You know what’s even better? When
you wind up with a cache of unwanted Christmas gifts, gift cards and
card-ensconced granny bucks that’s just blazin’ a hole in your pocket! That’s
what BLURT’s here to bend your ear about. Forget holiday gift guides: Here’s a
pile of ideas on how to parlay the unwanteds, plasti-cash and crisp two-dollar
bills into an onanistic orgy of materialism-and, again with the honesty:
flat-out ignorance of the current economic clime.

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

Shoot First

Call of Duty: Modern
Warfare 3
($59.99)

www.activision.com

Rage ($59.99)

www.zenimax.com

 

Although you might call most of us liberal commies who’d
rather die complaining than fighting – well, we like to shoot stuff as much as
the next gun nut. So long as it’s someone deserving, a harmless stack of
watermarked promotional CDs, or graphically rendered enemy soldiers and
mutants. And you get to shoot a bunch of the latter in these two games, which
are already big sellers.

       Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is
essentially more of what you’ve come to dig in a war shooter: solid, intuitive
controls, huge local and online multiplayer activity – amounting to crazy
replay value. New to this iteration, though, are strike packages that enhance
customization and the Call of Duty Elite Service. The latter is available in
free and subscription versions, with
both allowing stat tracking, and the sub providing analysis and improvement
tools. If you’re obsessed with being king of the hill, it’s worth the extra
fifty bucks.

       Rage is a wasteland shooter from id
Software, developers of Doom and Quake. It combines the best shooting
elements of Borderlands, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas – with some Blur/Dirt racing (combat and non-) thrown in. This makes for one giddy gamer, as the
adrenaline stays in the red on each mission and race – until the craptastic abrupt
and anti-climactic end, that is. It was a complete pisser, actually. But we’re
already on a second playthrough – and the racing, which is so prominent in the
actual campaign, is so fun we keep going back for more. And, like CoD: MW3, the
multiplayer racing means big replay value.  (Both
games reviewed on Xbox 360).

 

 

 

 

Winter of Our Bonus
Content

Jimi Hendrix Experience Winterland set ($40 on Amazon)

(Experience Hendrix/Legacy) www.jimihendrix.com

 

Sometimes it feels like they’re milking the Hendrix archives
– except that instead of warmed over crap tracks, most of the releases are
pretty sweet. This baby here is one of the best, ever. Recorded just before Electric Ladyland, it includes three CDs
and one DVD covering three days in
October 1968 and only about 19 songs. The shows – and the individual
performances vary so much, though, that it’s an immensely satisfying listen. If
you’re a big Hendrix fan, you’ll be more than pleased. If you’re a casual fan,
you’ll be chugging the Kool-Aid after you hear this. By the way, mind the bonus
interview – hearing Jimi speak is like hearing the voice of God. (Price refers
to the Amazon edition which features an extra disc. An 8-LP edition is
available for about 70 bucks.)

 

 

 

 

Et Tu, Fruit Brute?

Funko Blox General Mills Monster Cereal figures ($20)

www.funko.com

 

Saturday morning was an important part of Blurt‘s childhood – it shaped our
pop-culture obsession, and we’re forever grateful. And although we harbor a
deep and abiding distaste for marketing to children, the commercials were often
as fun as the cartoons. Case in point: the General Mills Monster Cereals ads.
If you didn’t love Boo Berry,
Franken Berry
and Count Chocula, you’re probably one of those kids whose parents banned TV
and sugar cereals. Sucks to be you. Anyway, for the geeky overgrown children
who did connect with those adorable abominations, you can pick up these vinyl
blox figures for your collection of unopened toys. These, thick, seven-inch
vinyl dolls will stand tall in your cubicle and remind you of the good ol’
days. And probably reactivate your ire about the criminally overlooked Fruit
Brute and Yummy Mummy brands.

 

 

 

 

Go the F**k to Sleep

Breathe Owl Breathe children’s book: The Listeners/These Train Tracks ($30)

www.breatheowlbreathe.com

 

Thirty bucks for a children’s book? It better be good, and
this one is. Breathe Owl Breathe frontguy Micah Middaugh wrote, illustrated,
carved and printed this super-cute kids’ book, which features back-to-back
stories and a 70-gram seven-inch single featuring a song for each of the two
stories. You’ll want to keep the platter out of your young’uns’ reach – they
just don’t know how to handle vinyl – but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more
rewarding bedtime experience than playing Middaugh’s gorgeous songs as a
supplement to his simple, charming tales.

 

 

 

 

Tusk Bräu

Mastodon Beer Stein ($65)

www.mastodonrocks.com/store

 

No chance you’ve ever seen a beer stein shaped like a tusk
unless maybe you’re a recently thawed caveman or maybe a Rwandan murder junkie
– it has to be the product of these loud-as-hell metal gods, Mastodon. You know
you want one, though. So does Blurt
we’re so sick of the metallic taste of PBR
cans. Sadly, it holds only 0.35 liters or hops nectar… so you better get two.

 

 

 

Are We Not Jocko Homo?

Devo Energy Dome ($32)

www.store.clubdevo.com

 

Next Halloween – or, fuck it, this New Year’s – you can
dress like Devo and drink like Mastodon! You may recognize the upside-down
flowerpots from Devo shows or videos (“Whip It”), and of course you covet this
go-anywhere headwear. Now you can get your own in either hot red or cool blue.

 

 

 

 

Stick It

Screen Candy ($4)

www.originalscreencandy.com

 

Sooner or later, no matter how many apps you download – or
how many times you rearrange the icons, your smartphone’s home screen is gonna
lose its pop. Soon, instead of pretty colors and cool little pictures, all
you’ll see is dandruff and facial oils. Screen Candy adds another level of
customization so you can add “affinity designs, brands, and licensed artwork”
that, since they’re printed on “special non-damaging, removable, reusable,
static cling material,” can be changed any time. Each package contains five
penny-sized stickers, usually tied together by a theme like “Hawaiian Sunset”
or “Surf Shacka.”

 

 

 

Follow Your Lead

Buckle-Down Dog Collars and Leads ($20-30)

www.buckle-down.com

 

Your dog doesn’t need a sweater, a little leather jacket, or
a saddle. And stop putting those heavy chains on his neck so he looks as much
like a douche as you. All he should be wearing is a big doggy smile and a
collar – that’s one of the perks of being an animal. If you’re still bent on
forcing your sense of style on the poor guy, get him a Buckle-Down collar and
lead. They come in a variety of cool designs including tattoo art (the pirate
model “Dead Men Tell No Tales”) and Vegas symbols (“Lucky Red”). You can also
pretend he cares as much about Ford Mustangs as you do, or make him look like a
sissy with flowers and stuff. If function is a concern, and it oughta be, know
that B-D collars and leads are well-made from the same material used in
automotive seatbelts – right down to the kickass little buckles.

 

 

 

Purse Your Lips

Bamboo Saxophone ($89-199)

Blues Flute ($30)

www.bambooinstrumentguys.com

 

At South By Southwest 2011’s instrument and gear trade show,
BLURT could hear someone playing a saxophone amid all the guitar-centric booths
– and it turned out to be one of these little guys. John Boyle was wailing away
on one of these deceptively small
units and it sounded damn nigh like the real thing. We had to try it out, maybe
on some choice Foreigner covers. Well, it took a while for sax neophytes like
us to get anything close to a real sound out of it, but the missus – an
experienced sax player, made it sing just like Boyle. But she wouldn’t jam some
Foreigner. (Available in alto and tenor.)

 

 

 

 

Goin’ Up The Country

Waylon Jennings: Live
at the US
Festival 1983
($17)

Willie Nelson: Live at
the US
Festival 1983
($17)

(Shout! Factory) www.shoutfactory.com

 

This one doesn’t really need much talkin’ up if you’re into
Waylon and Willie. And although you might’ve told your wife or your mom you
really wanted them, they probably just don’t understand your obsession with
these two hairy outlaws and their twangy music that doesn’t sound anything like
Johnny Mathis or the Black-Eyed Peas. That’s what gift cards are for, though.
Not to mention exchanges. If you pick them up together on Amazon, you’ll save
about eight bucks which oughta be enough to buy a cheap bottle of Jim Beam to
go with a lonely late-night doubleheader from two of country’s greats. There
are 45 songs between these career-spanning – up ‘til ’83, natch – concerts from
June 4 of that year. That’s when the Dukes
of Hazzard
was still pretty new, too, so when Waylon whips that one out,
it’s extra crowd-pleasin’.

 

 

***

 

Randy Harward is
Senior Editor of BLURT. Check out his blog at Blurt-online.com as well as his
regular installment of “The Goods” in the print magazine.

THE SINGLES SCENE II

It’s indie going steady time once again! Guarantee: all
sales are vinyl.

 

BY TIM HINELY

 

Okay, so the
previous BLURT singles column ran back in March
. I had such a good time doing
it (and with plenty more 7″ers rolling in during the interim) that I really
wanted to do it again. Voila, here it is. As I stated last time, you guys can keep your iPods, downloads, MP3s and the
like. Meanwhile, I will make sure that my record player keeps working –  in truth, I’d repair it before I’d fix, say,
my car, fridge, or oven.  I’d say
something goofy (or completely wrong) like, these
damn kids these days don’t know what vinyl is all about…
, but you know
what? They do. Labels still press it, and folks both young and old still buy
it. 

 

Long live vinyl!
Here are a dozen recent platters – one of them submitted by a fellow BLURT-er, the rest reviewed by me –
you need.

 

***

 

Rating: 7 (out
of 10)

Bunnygrunt

Lady, You Just
Got Von Damaged! EP

(Pancake
Productions) www.pancakeproductions.net

And crashing out
of the gate is St. Louie’s long-lived punky power indie poppers Bunnygrunt. The
core of the band, Matt Harnish on guitar and vocals and Karen Reid on bass and
vocals, is still around and share vocals duties. Opening cut “Just like “ol Times”
is a classic, all fuzzy guitars and gobs of sugary melody while “Young Abe
Lincoln” slows it down a bit and was just average. The song on the flip, their
Karen-sung “He’s About a Leaver,” sounds like the best of Rizzo, All Girl
Summer Fun Band and, yes, Bunnygrunt, all rolled into one!

 

7

The Ice Choir

“Two Rings” b/w
“The Ice Choir”

(Shelflife) www.shelflife.com

This is the
debut release from a Brooklyn, NY band who you’d swear were from England.
It’s the work of one, Kurt Feldman, you may know him as the drummer for the
Pains of Being Pure at Heart (and the Depreciation Guild) but here he shows his
icier side (sorry) with two synth pop classic. “Two Rings” is darker and more
romantic while the flip, “The Ice Choir” 
is bouncier and a bit looser. A perfect mix of classic and contemporary.
Expect a debut full-length sometime in 2012.

 

8

Monnone Alone

“Pink Earrings”
b/w “When We Hit the Ground”

(The Lost and
Lonesome Recording Co.)  www.lostandlonesome.com.au

This is the new
project from, of course, Mark Monnone. As you know, Mark was the bassist in The
Lucksmiths, Australia’s
purveyors of perfect pop, but when that band called it a day a few years back
Mark needed someone to occupy his time. Though based back in his homeland,
these songs were recorded by Drew Cramer in San Francisco (Mark is always traveling the
world). “Pink Earrings” is a warm groove with a warm low end while the flip,
“When We Hit the Ground,” cranks it up a notch with  hint of fuzz on the guitars and Mark’s
heartfelt, Jonathan Richman-esque vocals.

 

6

Orca Team

“Take My Hand”
+2

(HHBTM) www.hhbtm.com

Well, I kept hearing about Portland’s Orca Team but had never heard
them. Pals swore they were worthy and well, my pals were right. This is
swingin’ pop for well-dressed folks with cocktails in their hands (though I
don’t drink and rarely get dressed up and I like it so that shoots my theory to
hell).  “Take My Hand” is a real finger
snapper while the two songs on the flip (“Me & my Lonesome” and “Fight
Song”) added more reverb. Though both are good, “Fight Song” is the pick to
click on this side.  Huzzah!

 

8

Chloroform Days

“Landings” b/w
“Evelyn”

(CulDeSac Kids) www.culdesackidsrecords.com

Chloroform Days
– a/k/a Cali
guitarist/vocalist and sampler-laptop
whiz Cory Milano – follows up his extraordinary No Traffic EP with an earworm platter of shiver-inducing,
ambient-laced pop. The icy intro motif of “Landings” gradually thaws into an
indiefilm soundtrack-worthy anthem (Sundance, are you listening?), while the
B-side’s kinetic beats ‘n’ Rhodes, courtesy Erik Kertes, leavened by Milano’s
yearning, sighing vox will melt your heart.
Guaranteed. (Fred Mills reporting.)

 

6

Paper Fleet

Prairie Fires of
the Great West ep

(Ottomen
Records) www.ottomen.com

I reviewed the
band’s last 7″ in this column last time (having never heard of the band before)
– and here is another worthy single. Only two songs on here (I want more) but
they both kick up a fine amount of dust with gritty/gnashy guitar, a solid
backbeat  and on top, Jim Campbell’s
deliciously smart vocals (Campbell used to be in The Ottomen with P.F. member
Josh Inman, if I have my facts straight). The 45 comes with a cool comic, too.

 

7

Jeremy Porters & the Tucos

Night on the
Town ep

(Mag Wheel)   www.magwheel.com

Hey, finally a
7″ with a big hole (and the blue vinyl is purty, too).  I’ve reviewed records in the past by Mr.
Porter and he always delivers; the two songs on here do not disappoint. Imagine
if Cheap Trick had been born on the Motor
City about 20 years later
and you’ll be in the ballpark. “Night on the Town” is a nice, chunky pop tune
with gobs of melody while the rootsier “Ain’t My House Anymore” adds some much
needed twang to the proceedings, all proving one thing, that Porter can master
either of these finicky genres.

 

7

Ross and the Wrongens

Evil Life in the
Loo’s EP

(self released) www.rossanddthewrongens.com

Never heard of
these UK
popsters before but they seem to be getting a push, and hey, the vinyl on this
one is extra thick so that has to count for something, right? They seem like
they’re influenced by all that’s good about UK pop but with none of the
annoying bombast.  “That Magic Feeling”
is a snappy pop song that I’ll now be singing all day, while “Through with U
(ballad of an alcoholic)” was decent but not great. The two songs on the flip
were both righteous: “Reason 2 Live” adds some cool organ while “Summer Sun,”
despite its title, is moodier and a bit darker. Rookies of the year?

 

9

Strawberry Whiplash

Stop Look and
Listen EP

(Matinee) www.indiepages.com/matinee

Three more songs
from the Scottish hit-making machine. The band is a collaboration between main
songwriter Lawrence
“Laz” McCluskey and vocalist Sandra. This is their 3rd ep (the
previous ones were both on the Matinee label as well) and these three songs are
his best.  The title track is a
near-perfect mid-tempo pop tune that comes crashing out of the gate with
conviction and Sandra cooing love beads in the air while “In the Blink of an
Eye” slows it down, if just a bit, but keeps the melody chugging; and “Luck is
the Residue of Design” is more goodness. The Matinee track record continues.
 

8

Tunabunny

“(Song for my)
Solar Sister” b/w “Airport”

(HHBTM) www.hhbtm.com

I wasn’t sure
what to think of a band with a name like Tunabunny, but what’s in a name,
right? They have a previous split 7″ out and a full-length as well, and the two
songs on here prove they belong in this article.  The a-side, “(Song for my) Solar Sister,”
sounds like a Spector wall o’ sound, if Spector was born in Athens, GA, about
30 years later, while the flip is a bit more out there with whirring,
pulsing  synths and vocals that sound
like they’re a million miles away.

 

9

White Wishes

“Come and Say
Hello” b/w “Jimmy”

(Shelflife) www.shelflife.com

This band hails
from St. Petersburg – as in Russia, the cold, bleak place half a world away, not
the sunny American place in Florida.
The Shelflife page nails the A-side as sounding like a lost Golden Dawn track
(old Sarah Records band) and I could not have said it any better, while the
A-side is more Pastels-sounding with scratchy yet jangly guitars, a thumping
drumbeat and vocals that sound more Scottish than Russian. I can’t wait to hear
more from this band.

 

10

The Motifs and The Zebras (split single)

“Words” b/w
“Desert Island”

(Knock Yr Socks
Off Records) www.knockyrsocksoff.com

All-around good
guy Michael Zakes got this single for me featuring two terrific Aussie pop
bands. The Motifs, who I caught at the San Francisco pop fest earlier this
year, offer up “Words” which features 
warm (yet totally melodic) keys with handclaps and near perfect
harmonies, while the Zebras have recorded a song so good here that I could play
it over and over on a desert island. Split single of the year, no doubt!

 

***

 

 Tim “45
Adapter” Hinely publishes the Portland-based Dagger zine. Visit him on the
web at the
Dagger
website.