Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hate It Or Love It:
Mike C.'s Favorite Music Of 2005

The permalinks are here: albumsreissuessongslive shows

Can I talk my shit again?

It's become an annual tradition. Sometime in late January or early February, weeks after best-of roundups have been published by major media outlets and even most bloggers and amateur pundits, I finally get around to mine. Those extra few weeks give a little extra perspective on the year, some more time to make sense of it all, and just maybe a fighting chance to stand out among all the other lists out there. My lists could be revised and re-revised to death, so around this time of the new year feels like a good point to cut it off. When I watch a movie, I stay until the last credit has rolled; similarly, I can't fairly comment on the best cultural offerings of a year just passed until all 365 or 366 days have indeed finished parading by.

Last year I ranked my 100 favorite albums. I would have liked to repeat that ostentatious number this year, but I only feel strongly about 75 or so records this time out. It seemed wiser to concentrate on the good stuff rather than pad it out just the sake of reaching a bigger, rounder number. So, a special note to everyone whose record is toward the end of these 50, or who made the "also worthy" list: realize that you did quite well. This is not like being awarded the "Participant" ribbon at 6th grade field day. Hey, this year you made the list and The New Pornographers didn't. And if this were last year, there would be plenty of records on behind yours on the list. This truly is the creme de la creme of the chess world in a show with everything but Yul Brenner.

Though this year I plan to launch another website, mikecmusic.com, at this time my web activities are based out of Hoboken Rock City. HRC is where you can find my blog, podcasts, reviews (soon to be updated with 2005 entries), and a bunch of other rock & roll fun.

Disclaimer: In addition to being a frequent DJ and a sometime critic, I am also a full-time employee of one of those big, bad major record labels. Though some people may feel that last bit disqualifies me from being able to credibly write opinions about music, the fact is I would have nothing much to gain by letting personal or professional self-interests influence the opinions I express about music. Anyone who’s interested in knowing my business or personal relationship with any of the artists on these lists is welcome to ask.

UPDATE 01/30/06
For more a more democratic take on the year in music, Tris McCall's Critics Poll began posting its results today. Tomorrow, The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop goes up. What a fun week for music nerds!

Thank you, and rock on,
Mike C.

50 Favorite Albums Of 2005

1. COMMON - Be (Good/Geffen)
For the first time since Guru's Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 in 1993, a hip-hop album tops my list. This is noteworthy, considering that I spend relatively little of music-listening time on hip-hop, that my DJ gigs at the Alphabet City punk haven Manitoba's in NYC (where I'm spinning punk rock tunes next Wednesday, Feb. 1, 10 p.m.) are strict celebrations of rockism, and that when I do spin hip-hop at gigs it's usually at the insistence of certain members of the staff of a certain Hoboken bar (where I can usually be found spinning on Saturdays). Given these truths, Common's album landing at #1 on my list has to rank as a surprise development.

The first time hearing Jazzmatazz was an impressionable event for a 21-year-old about-to-be-college-senior. I was hanging out after-hours in an office in the Rap Promotion department of EMI Records on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, visiting a friend and classmate who was interning there. Fully forty floors below in the same building, I was interning in the editorial department of a well-known national entertainment magazine. I'd grown up within a half-hour drive of New York City, but it was not until this two-day-a-week intern gig in the summer of '93 that I first felt like I was a part of the city. My internship wasn't bad, but my classmate's gig at the record label seemed more exciting. It wasn't just that she could hook me up with free CDs at will, though that certainly was part of the allure; free CDs are a big deal when you're used to paying for them. There was something about the energy of that office, even after two-thirds of the staff had left for the day, that gave me a charge and made me want to be a part of it. When it came time to do another internship during the second half of senior year, I signed right up with a record company, putting my journalistic dreams on the back burner where they have simmered since.

Guru's first Jazzmatazz got mixed reviews, but I fully bought the hype about its fusion of hip-hop and live jazz played by Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers, and others ushering in a new era for hip-hop. Of course, despite (or perhaps because of) the popularity of Arrested Development, Digable Planets, and L.L. Cool J's appearance on MTV Unplugged, the so-called rap enlightenment was not televised, because it never materialized. Alongside Jazzmatazz, the other rap album that captured my imagination that summer was Dr. Dre's The Chronic, a diametrically opposed work in many ways which, in retrospect, has withstood the test of time a hell of a lot better than the efforts of Guru and his cavalcade of guest jazz cats and soul vocalists.

With all this in mind, why on earth did I gravitate to Be more than any other album I heard in 2005? Oh, Common and Be's producer Kanye West are hardly paragons of virtue insofar as their lyrics are concerned. Fine, their misogyny is watered down more than many of the most popular rappers, and they don't glorify drug use or gang violence. But their edge is intact; this really isn't PC stuff. The key is that they don't get by solely on edge, the crutch of too many rappers; any gangsta sentiment (and there isn't much on this album, although the cry of "When this bitch did the crime!" on "Testify" is awfully mean spirited, even if it's just part of the narrative) leavens the relatively placid soundscapes and creates a dynamic tension on top of which Kanye's flawless production shines.

Thematically it's a little all over the map, veering from sexual fantasies to the life aspirations of small children, but no one's asking for a concept album. Be is not overly focused so as to be boring, and it's not insularly defined as to be predictable. It's short enough to be savored and understood without having to devote hours and hours of one's time to it, yet not so simple when you dig a little deeper. It has zero bad songs and is a flawless work.

2. PITTY SING – Pitty Sing (Or)
The biggest nouveau new wave album of 2005 was...The Killers' mid-2004 release. Sigh. While the pace of technology increases and the means of distributing music to the public are the fastest they've ever been, the lethargy with which the industry is content to milk product continues unabated. Hot Fuss was my favorite album of 2004, and I think it still stands up well a year later, but come on, enough already.

The charts in the trade mags and the playlists on terrestrial radio barely change from week to week, and it's no secret why. The industry long ago figured out that it's cheaper and easier to sell four million copies of one release than to sell one million copies each of four separate releases. Hence the present era of mega-hits or bust. The Killers actually got some traction in the mainstream as 2004 went on, so they were shoved down everyone's throats for all of 2005. It helped sales of their record, but it's doubtful it'll build a lasting career. That's just not how things work, historically. If you want an artist's fan base to grow organically, you let them do their thing at their own artistic pace, you don't overexpose them, you embrace the concept of artist development.

How things would have played out for Pitty Sing, we'll never know. The New York quintet whose self-titled full-length debut, a January 2005 release teeming with at least a half-dozen radio-friendly singles, succumbed to their own apparently enormous egos and disbanded before the year even ended. Maybe the singer sounded a little too much like Morrissey in spots—he was born in Manchester—and we all know how well the Mozzer went over with mainstream America during The Smiths' heyday.

But I don't totally buy that excuse for their lack of success. The lyrics aren't any worse than what Brandon Flowers & Co. came up with, and much of the music is catchier. Why such a near-perfect pop album molded into a mainstream-friendly form got zero hype and limped its way to 4,700 copies sold while their labelmate Matisyahu has sold 52 times that amount and counting with a live album of Hasidic reggae that was the talk of the music blogs from here to Hungary is a mystery that ought to be showing up on one of those Law & Order knockoffs like Cold Case in a few years.

3. ELECTRIC SIX – Señor Smoke (XL)
Chuck Klosterman compares them to Van Halen, Anthony Miccio compares them to The New York Dolls, and I think they're both onto something. Flamboyant, inherently ridiculous, hard to take seriously, undeniably indelible. The Detroit masters of the disco-rock hybrid were rewarded for improving on their debut by having this even better album held back from U.S. audiences for a full year; an early 2005 release in Europe, this puppy doesn't hit U.S. stores until February 7, 2006. Talk about inherently ridiculous.

4. BRENDAN BENSON – The Alternative To Love (V2)
In the mold of Matthew Sweet's magnum opus Girlfriend, this is the type of album that people who don't immerse themselves in the music press, or the web, or satellite radio, or a network of musically obsessed friends will claim no one makes anymore. If you like white male singers in the power-pop tradition with great lyrics about relationship angst, The Alternative To Love is your album of the year.

5. KANYE WEST – Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella)
Though his greatest and most admirable achievement of 2005 was speaking truth to power on national TV in a day and age when hardly anyone has the guts to do so, Hoboken's favorite son—yes, he lives here, he's ours now, sorry Chi-town—actually bested his debut with an even more engaging second album.

From behind the haze of echo emerges a cohesive, restrained (ambition-wise, not emotionally) batch of 10 memorably good songs.

A multi-disc dance extravaganza a la Saturday Night Fever, except it's all basically one guy, and you won't hear it at weddings 25 years from now. How well James Murphy's electro-disco will fare over time remains to be seen; my Fatboy Slim CDs which were indispensible when I started DJing seven years ago aren't exactly in heavy rotation now. But boy, anyone who likes to work a little vibey electronic dance pop into their DJ sets had to view this collection of recent dance floor faves with a disc of solid new material as a hell of a godsend. To pretend that this music foretells a new golden age of electronic pop conquering the mainstream is to believe it's still the 20th century, but to ignore the obvious charms within here would be equally short-sighted. Get up, get into it, and get involved.

8. ART BRUT – Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Fierce Panda)
Sincere, bratty, but not mean-spirited English punk album of the year. A pleasantly consistent surprise of an album from a band whose debut single "Formed A Band" b/w "Bad Weekend" could have easily been a flash in the punk rock pan.

9. SUFJAN STEVENS – Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty)
I find it almost embarrassing that Pitchfork's pick for best album of the year made my top 10; hell all of their top 4 (Sufjan plus Kanye, Art Brut, and M.I.A.) made my top 11. Just because Pitchfork's condescending "indier than thou—and cooler, too, punk" stance makes their record reviews literally unreadable doesn't mean they can't occasionally be right. For those unfamiliar with this, this is quasi-Christian folkie Stevens' second album dedicated to one of the fifty states; the first one—which I've yet to hear—was a meditation on Michigan. Overlong and perhaps overly ambitious, an album eerily similiar in spirit to last year's Fiery Furnaces effort Blueberry Boat. The chief difference between the two, and the reason why this album made the top 10 while that '04 Furnaces record checked in at #66, is that Illinois contains actual songs.

10. PERNICE BROTHERS – Discover A Lovelier You (Ashmont)
So subtly brilliant that they can be easy to miss, even a relatively minor effort like this one is a major event when it's a band this good. It's difficult to gauge what the future holds for this group once based in Massachusetts, then New York City, before its members scattered to the far corners of the continent. Main man Joe Pernice is now living in Toronto, and he grew the beard to prove it. Hopefully the group and its malleable lineup will continue to perform under this name. Either way, it's as fine a collection of '60s-meets-'90s influenced pop as could be hoped for, just another 40 or so minutes of brilliance that will enrich anyone whose path it crosses.

11. M.I.A. - Arular (XL)
I had to leave M.I.A. out of my top 10 because I don't trust the fact that I like her. Not because she isn't great; she clearly is. But as someone who's not big on hip-hop most years, doesn't dig much "world" music, and can't stand dancehall reggae, I'm awfully suspicious that I could like an album that is fusion of all three. Sometimes the most restrictive stereotypes are the ones we give ourselves.

12. KATE BUSH – Aerial (Columbia)
The Village Voice really screwed Kate Bush this year. Nothing against the Voice, whose annual Pazz & Jop poll is as close to a definitive survey of the year in music as exists in the U.S., but their deadline for top 10 lists was really early this year: December 27, in fact, four days before the year allegedly being evaluated even friggin' ended. Album releases may indeed be more predictable than natural disasters, which is the only reason why it's slightly less offensive that critics were asked to rank the top albums and singles of a year that wasn't quite over yet as opposed to mainstream journalism outlets, who routinely run "top 10 news stories of the year" lists sometime around the second week of December, leading to farces like lists of the "top 10 news stories of 2004" that did not include the December 26 tsunami.

Anyway, the first album in 12 years by Kate—who, through no fault of her own, happens to share a surname with the leader of what was referred to as "the free world" until Bill Clinton left office—is a "grower," the sort of album that takes time to reveal its many layers of genius. I had this album before December 27, I liked it before December 27, and I was in love with its lush final two tracks before December 27. But I wasn't consumed with it like I am now. Perhaps it's my fault for not spending more time with this album in the waning months of 2005. Since the top 10 spots on my albums and songs lists had to be finalized on December 27 for the Voice's purposes, Kate finished out of the money on both lists. For reasons of consistency, I'm unwilling to change my top 10 as I publish the unexpurgated versions of my lists now, nearly a month later. Sorry, Kate.

13. THE TEARS – Here Come The Tears (Independiente)
There are probably fewer than 50 people in the world who think Suede's best work was done after guitarist Bernard Butler left the glammy Brit rockers to fend for themselves, but I am one of them. So Butler's first collaboration with singer Brett Anderson in a decade surprises not because it picks up where the two left off with Dog Man Star, but because it sounds like the fraternal twin of the first album Suede Mach II made sans Bernard, and by far my favorite of the band's career, Coming Up.

14. SAINT ETIENNE – Tales From Turnpike House (Sanctuary)
A quietly brilliant sketch of a London apartment building from the city's electro-tinged pop trio, replete with two or three songs that would fit in just fine on U.S. Top 40 radio if singer Sarah Cracknell's last name were Clarkson, Lohan, or Duff. Oh well, more for us.

15. BLOC PARTY – Silent Alarm (Vice)
If you're the kind of person who reads these kinds of lists, you probably already know if you like this, and odds are pretty good you do. Like the first Franz Ferdinand album, a thoroughly solid work that will be awfully tough to follow up.

16. ELKLAND – Golden (Columbia)
Straight-ahead no-bull synth-pop album just like they used to make back in the good old days. Fitting that they opened all 10 shows of Erasure's stay at Irving Plaza. If this album were released in 1988, it would have been all over alternative radio stations like WLIR, and after burning up the dance floor at Aldo's and The Loop Lounge for months, "I Need You Tonight" might have crossed over and became one of the biggest pop songs of the year.

17. IVY – In The Clear (Nettwerk)
The American Saint Etienne—both groups are trios with two male instrumentalists and a female singer, both based in their respective country's most obvious metropolis, both at it since the early '90s, both masters of glamorous pop with a rock & roll edge—nail it again. They're less prolific than Ms. Cracknell & Co., at least in part because one of them splits his time between this band and Fountains Of Wayne, who sound nothing like this band. The relative sparseness of their offerings makes each one all the more luscious to savor.

18. THE HOLD STEADY - Separation Sunday (Frenchkiss)
Casual sexism aside, this is faux Thin Lizzy/early Springsteen at its absolute best.

19. OCEAN COLOUR SCENE – A Hyperactive Workout For The Flying Squad (Sanctuary)
In which a band leftover from the '90s Britpop explosion—one of the few I never cared for much, in fact—comes out of nowhere to make a career-defining opus full of vibrant pop. If a tree falls in the forest...

20. RODNEY CROWELL – The Outsider (Columbia)
Wordy, world-weary, but not wishy-washy country-influenced singer/songwriter stuff. One of the best albums in a career full of good ones by a man whose ex-father-in-law was Johnny Cash. Emmylou Harris and John Prine guest, and if they mean anything to you, you'll go nuts for this. If they don't mean anything to you, do something about that first.

21. TSAR – Band-Girls-Money (TVT)
A primer by which punk-pop ought to be redefined.

22. FEIST – Let It Die (Interscope)
Short on songwriting, long on style, ambience, and cover song choices--can't go wrong with the Bee Gees or Ron Sexsmith. As a debut album from this sexy-voiced Canadian songstress and Broken Social Scenester, we'll take it.

23. TIM BURGESS – I Believe (Koch)
On his solo debut, the Charlatans UK frontman goes the Paul Weller route, with a breezy, easy-to-please collection of upbeat pop moments that sounds very little like his old group in terms of production and instrumentation. A welcome surprise.

24. THE BRAVERY – The Bravery (Island)
Hate it or love it, yeeeeeeah. No one with any credibility on the topic of 21st century new wave is supposed to like this, but if you can ignore the fact that these guys pretty much are poseurs, you'll find that a good two-thirds of the songs on their debut are well-constructed pop machines, and their lyrics aren't any worse than anyone else's in the genre. May stand the test of time better than anyone suspects.

25. THE WHITE STRIPES – Get Behind Me Satan (V2)
I've learned not to ignore them, but I still don't love them. Their most stylistically varied work to date is, if not their best album, certainly their most enjoyable listen. Their continued popularity relative to other bands doing a similar type of thing amazes me to no end.

26. LYRICS BORN – Same #$*& Different Day (Quannum)
Remix wins again. The best remix album in a year of some good ones (Bloc Party, even Death From Above 1979) recasts tunes from the Japanese rapper's 2003 effort Later That Day... alongside gems like the Stereo MC's Rattlesnake Mix of "I Changed My Mind," which is only the best five minutes of funk unleashed in this solar system in the last ten years, and has really never left heavy rotation at my gigs or in my life since it was released in 1999.

27. SHOUT OUT LOUDS – Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (Capitol/Bud Fox)
28. LOUIS XIV – The Best Little Secrets Are Kept (Atlantic)

Just like you can't have a picnic unless somebody brings the ants, you can't have a party unless somebody brings the rock.

29. THE GO! TEAM – Thunder, Lightning, Strike (Columbia/Memphis Industries)
Poppy? Yes. Hipper than thou? Oh yeah. Songs? Kinda. Cool production? Totally. Ephemeral? Likely. Temporarily indispensible? Shit yeah.

30. RENO’S MEN – Step Up To The Stereo Slider (Quagmyre Shagpile)
Wither Reno's Men. The best live crew to come out of New Jersey since the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band, these Scottish expats never failed to enthrall at their theatrical club gigs at The Loop Lounge, Brownie's, The China Club, and everyplace else that had them. These four lads, cruel victims of music biz ageism who would have been signed to a good indie label in a late-'90s heartbeat had they been a few years younger, melded several generations of punkfunktriphopglam and more into a synthesis that by all rights never should have worked yet always did.

Though recordings passed around among friends and fans (including WFMU's Glen Jones) but never truly "released" did hint at their greatness, it was not until Step Up that frontman James Murphy (no relation to the LCD Soundsystem guy) and his gang of three properly captured their essence on disc. Which makes it all a bit sadder that the album's release coincided with the band's decision to cease performing. If Reno's Men had re-recorded the 10 or 12 best songs in their repertoire with this production quality, it would easily be the best album of the year, if not the decade.

31. HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEARTS – Heels N’ Wheels (Get Hip)
Meanwhile, fellow Jerseyites the Sweethearts similarly call it quits by releasing their finest-ever recorded work as their swan song. There's nothing classier than going out at the top of your game. This is garage-grrrl rock (with farfisa) at its finest.

32. DAVE’S TRUE STORY – Nature (Bepop)
David Cantor is one of the wittiest writers in New York City, which makes this subtle but noticeable shift toward less kitschy or humorous material a surprise. Still, the songs are all strong, as are their arrangements, not to mention their delivery by the inimitable chanteuse Kelly Flint.

33. THE PONYS – Celebration Castle (In The Red)
Darker, less obvious, and less memorable than their debut (my #5 album of 2004), but not without its moments. Someday, when I finally learn an instrument for real and/or get the cojones to sing for real, I hope to have a "difficult second album" this good.

34. MARJORIE FAIR – Self-Help Serenade (EMI)
Only the world. A transporting kind of record for fans of Red House Painters, Low, and Brian-in-the-sandbox era Beach Boys. Brought to you by Hackensack-bred Californian Evan Slamka. Yes, that's all you get for your money.

35. CHRIS MILLS – The Wall To Wall Sessions (Ernest Jenning/Powerless Pop)
Recorded and mixed live to two-track with no overdubs—no easy feat when the songs are this quirky and a horn section is involved—Mills' fourth album is a smile-enducing if lyrically self-deprecatory "Huh, sometimes they do make 'em like they used to" good time.

36. FRANZ FERDINAND – You Could Have It So Much Better (Epic)
And we did, on the first album. Far from godawful, and far from godhead. And "This Boy" would be a #1 smash in a more open-minded world.

37. MAXIMO PARK – A Certain Trigger (Warp)
Solid, angular British rock & roll a la Joe Jackson's first album. Great singles, unmemorable album tracks. Very similar to The Futureheads (#26 last year) and yet slightly more derivative. Does that make them The Pastheads?

38. STEREO TOTAL - Do The Bambi (Kill Rock Stars)
German kitsch-dance fun.

39. STARS – Set Yourself On Fire (Arts & Crafts)
Canadian indie pop with an underlying sweetness that's never sickly.

40. THE PILLCRUSHERS – Welcome To The World (Itsaboutmusic.com)
New York power pop of the less slick, old school variety (think Big Star) as opposed to the smoother sheen of the new school variety (think Weezer). Nice nice nice.

41. METRIC – Live It Out (Last Gang)
As per last time, three or four must-hear, all-world tracks of urgent girl-fronted post-Elastica rock, and not much else. Fair enough; I look forward to more of the same in another two years.

42. TOM VEK – We Have Sound (Star Time)
New-wave/post-punk dance party stizz, I believe the kids call it.

43. TRUE LOVE – Wings (Not Lame)
Hoboken power pop manna.

44. BEDSIT POETS – The Summer That Changed (Bongo Beat)
The dynamic, delicate duo of Edward Rogers and Amanda Thorpe collaborate for a baroque pop treat.

45. THE GIRAFFES – The Giraffes (Razor & Tie)
As much as I love loud guitars, when a band starts veering toward metal they tend to lose me. If these guys weren't local, I probably wouldn't've bothered to give this album the spins it deserves. The record Queens Of The Stoneage should have made, and the heavy rock album of the year.

46. MYLO – Destroy Rock & Roll (Breastfed/RCA)
Scottish sample-a-delic dance party.

47. THE JESSICA FLETCHERS – Less Sophistication (Rainbow Quartz)
Gabba gabba garage.

48. PETRA HADEN - Sings The Who Sell Out (Bar/None)
Too clever by two-thirds but ultimately irresistible, Ms. Haden's note-for-note a capella rendering of The Who's best album is more party favor than party fodder, but it's never boring.

49. R. KELLY – TP.3 Reloaded (Jive)
Don't you hate it...when you go to the bathroom...and there's no toilet paper?

50. THE VANITY PROJECT – The Vanity Project (Flagship)
Steven Page—who, aw hell, we'll say it out loud here, is more or less the frontman of Barenaked Ladies, although his bandmate Ed Robertson pens about 40 percent of the band's material was the sole composer of "One Week"—steps outside his longtime band for a full album of songs co-written with The Lilac Time's Stephen Duffy. As skilled Page is as a vocalist, it comes as a major shock and disappointment that the talented Duffy does not sing lead on a single one of the tracks. Good, though, good. Will remind fans of the Ladies' first two albums why they liked them in the first place.

Also Worthy
THE LOST PATROL – Lonesome Sky (no label)
SHELBY – The Luxury Of Time (Gigantic)
THE 88 – Over And Over (Mootron)
LADYTRON – Witching Hour (Rykodisc)
SLEATER-KINNEY – The Woods (Sub Pop)
IMOGEN HEAP – Speak For Yourself (RCA Victor/Megaphonic)
DAVE’S TRUE STORY – Simple Twist Of Fate: DTS Does Dylan (Bepop)
BLOC PARTY – Silent Alarm Remixed (Vice)
PERNICE BROTHERS - Nobody's Watching/Nobody's Listening (Ashmont)
THE MULTI-PURPOSE SOLUTION – How Can A Man Be Tougher Than The World? (Mustache/Diwad)
LITTLE BARRIE – We Are Little Barrie (Artemis)
BOB MOULD – Body Of Song (Yep Roc)
THE BLUE VAN – The Art Of Rolling (TVT)

Perhaps I Should’ve Spent More Time With
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Devils & Dust (Columbia)
SPOON - Gimme Fiction (Merge)
HOT HOT HEAT – Elevator (Sire)
MADONNA – Confessions On A Dance Floor (Maverick)
STEVIE WONDER – A Time To Love (Motown)
OUTRAGEOUS CHERRY - Our Love Will Change The World (Rainbow Quartz)
THE CAPITOL YEARS – Let Them Drink (Burn & Shiver)
PEELANDER-Z – Dancing Friendly (Eat Rice)
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 – Romance Bloody Romance: Remixed & B-Sides (Vice)
THE RAVEONETTES – Pretty In Black (Columbia)
MORRISSEY – Live At Earls Court (Attack/Sanctuary)
EMILIANA TORRINI – Fisherman’s Woman (Rough Trade)
OASIS – Don’t Believe The Truth (Epic)

Probably Worthy Of Consideration, But I Didn't Hear Them In Their Entirety
LIZ PHAIR – Somebody’s Miracle (Capitol)
NADA SURF – The Weight Is A Gift (Barsuk)
CAM'RON - Purple Haze (Interscope)
OUT HUD - Let Us Never Speak Of It Again (Kranky)
BUCK 65 - This Right Here Is Buck 65 (V2)
BLACKALICIOUS – The Craft (Anti)
ED HARCOURT - Strangers (Heavenly/EMI)
JENS LEKMAN – Oh You’re So Silent Jens (Secretly Canadian)
DOVES – Some Cities (Capitol)
ESTHERO – Wikkid Lil’ Grrrls (Warner)
MICHAEL FRANTI/SPEARHEAD – The Lost Sex Singles & Collectors’ Remixes (Liberation)
IDLEWILD – Warnings/Promises (EMI)
SUPERGRASS – Road To Rouen (Capitol)
MUNDY – Raining Down Arrows (Camcor)
ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS - I Am A Bird Now (Secretly Canadian)
ROGUE WAVE – Descended Like Vultures (Sub Pop)
THE MOUNTAIN GOATS - The Sunset Tree (4AD)
EMMA BUNTON - Free Me (19/Universal)
VAN MORRISON – Magic Time (Geffen)
SHELBY LYNNE – Suit Yourself (Capitol)

Wish I Had Heard In Their Entirety, Imports Still Eligible For 2006 List Because They're Coming Out Domestically This Year
GOLDFRAPP – Supernature (Mute)
JUNIOR SENIOR – Hey Hey My My Yo Yo (Crunchy Frog)
EDITORS – The Back Room (Kitchenware)
THE SUBWAYS – Young For Eternity

Overrated, Uneven, Disappointing, And/Or Lame
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS – Twin Cinema (Matador)
BECK – Guero (Interscope)
NEIL DIAMOND – 12 Songs (Columbia)
DANGER DOOM – The Mouse And The Mask (Epitaph/Ada)
QUEENS OF THE STONEAGE – Lullabies To Paralyze (Interscope)
GORILLAZ – Demon Days (Virgin)
50 CENT – The Massacre (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope)
FIONA APPLE – Extraordinary Machine (Epic)
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE – Plans (Atlantic)

20 Favorite Reissues, Compilations & Historical Releases Of 2005

1. ORANGE JUICE – The Glasgow School (Domino)
The Scottish post-punk quartet Orange Juice's debut You Can't Hide Your Love Forever was a rock-solid album, but the earlier recordings of its songs that comprise The Glasgow School amount to no less than the great lost Scottish post-punk masterwork of the early '80s. Lovingly mastered and packaged, with testimonials from Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch stickered to the front cover, this prequel to the brief but brilliant career of Edwyn Collins' first band is the finest release ever by the winsome, jangle-friendly band who didn't suffer fools gladly but always tempered their anger with humor and hooks. The first twee album? Maybe. Its often soothing tones offered infinite solace when this album was reissued a few months after Edwyn suffered a cerebral hemmorhage; his slow but steady recovery is being chronicled by his wife Grace on the message board of edwyncollins.com.

2. THE STOOGES – The Stooges (Rhino)
Overstating the greatness and importance of the first Stooges album is literally impossible. I'll save the hyperbole and stop there.

3. BOB DYLAN – Live At The Gaslight 1962 (Columbia/Legacy)
Forgive whoever was working the tape recorder for pausing on cue every time a song ended, just because the performance preserved provides a unique early glimpse of the artist as a barely-legal young man. These are not the oldest Dylan recordings that have now been released, but they are fascinating, and the restored sound is a heck of a lot better than any version of The Beatles' Live At The Star Club, an amateur bootleg recording from around the same time.

4. IAN DURY – New Boots And Panties (Fuel 2000)
The smiling, sneering side of the punk ethos.

5. VARIOUS – Children Of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The Second Psychedelic Era 1976-1996 (Rhino)
6. VARIOUS – The Sexual Life Of The Savages: Underground Post-Punk From São Paulo, Brasil (Soul Jazz)

Go to school.

7. PATTI SMITH – Horses/Horses (Arista/Columbia/Legacy)
The somber, meditative side of the punk ethos.

8. CHARLIE POOLE [& VARIOUS] - You Ain’t Talkin’ To Me: Charlie Poole And The Roots Of Country Music (Columbia/Legacy)
9. BOB DYLAN – No Direction Home: The Soundtrack – The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 (Columbia/Legacy)

You know the good old days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems—especially if the best stuff from the good old days keeps getting released in the future.

10. THE INSECT TRUST – Hoboken Saturday Night (Atco/Collector’s Choice)
An oddball collective that began in Memphis and ended up in Hoboken in time to make this forgotten gem of an album in 1970. Full of ramshackle, genuinely bohemian noise, each song seems out of step with the next, yet not one is truly out of place. Singer Nancy Jeffries glides her way through material with suitably hippiesque titles like "Our Sister The Sun" and "Reincarnations" accompanied by a hot four-piece group and guest contributions on drums by no less than Elvin Jones and Bernard "Pretty" Purdie. A group that sounds like a latter-day Lovin' Spoonful that never existed or a more boogie-oriented, Bizarro World version of Canned Heat with a female singer. One song's lyrics were lifted from Thomas Pynchon's book V. Jeffries went on to an A&R career, signing Suzanne Vega. Reed player Robert Palmer (the late author and New York Times critic, not the late auteur of "Some Like It Hot") went on to write Deep Blues and die of liver failure in his early fifties. Two of the other three principles are dead; the other survivor besides Jeffries, Luke Faust (harmonica/banjo/electric guitar/fiddle), still lives in Hoboken, running a yoga studio and teaching tai chi. These stories and more in the liner notes Robert Christgau wrote for this reissue, which has scanned 441 copies since it was released 51 weeks ago. Totally wild stuff.

11. DION – The Essential (Epic/Legacy)
Falls short of definitiveness by omitting "A Teenager In Love" and his other six Top 40 hits with The Belmonts, but at least a well-mastered single-disc compilation with all his solo hits now exists.

12. DONOVAN – Try For The Sun (Columbia/Legacy)
If you don't have 'em, get 'em here.

13. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE – Out Of State Plates (Virgin)
More b-sides, covers, and rarities than you can shake a stick at. I mean, if you go around shaking sticks at CDs. And finally, a legit release for their version of "Baby, One More Time."

14. GEORGE HARRISON – The Concert For Bangladesh (Capitol)
Those who forget their history...

15. DR. DRE – The Chronic (Death Row)
Still as sonically intoxicating as it was when it came out.

16. SLOAN – A Sides Win: Singles 1992-2005 (Koch)
You don't need to hit a home run every time you step up to the plate; here's a singles band doing what they do best.

17. DAVID ALLAN COE – Penitentiary Blues (Hacktone)
The other side of Folsom Prison: this is essential early '70s outlaw country from an actual ex-con.

18. SCRITTI POLITTI – Early (Sanctuary)
No "Perfect Way" here, but "Sweetest Girl" is among the memorable tracks on this appropriately titled collection of early work.

19. MARC BOLAN/T. REX – Born To Boogie (Sanctuary)
They're not quite the Spiders From Mars, but they had their glam moves down and dirty.

20. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Born To Run (Columbia)
Docked some points because the packaging lists the remastered CD of the original album as disc three of the set, giving billing prominence to the two bonus DVDs. As great as they might be—I haven't watched them yet; who has the time?—the importance should always be on the music.

100 Favorite Songs Of 2005

I pretty much hate 50 Cent. I state this not to invite the wrath of the G-Unit posse but merely to illustrate just how amazing a song 50 is associated with has to be in order for me to deem it the very best song of the year. "Hate It Or Love It," all smooth bravado and flow over a perfectly nicked Trammps sample (a Trammple?), charmed in a way that no other song did in 2005.

2. KELLY CLARKSON – Since U Been Gone
Here's the thing.

3. DOVES – Black And White Town
Dusk on a late October evening. The moment you hit the club on Friday night and the joint's just starting to jump. That moment when you just don't know what to do with yourself. There are so many things that can be read into "Black And White Town," so many times and places it can evoke. But ultimately, the lyrics insist on it as a song about that moment when it's all starting to happen, or when you wish it would. The old tension and release never sounded so good. This from a band that I'd nearly given up on—and I still haven't picked up the album yet.

4. BRENDAN BENSON – Cold Hands (Warm Heart)
Oh yeah, "taking a break" from the relationship; that always works.

5. ELECTRIC SIX – Future Is In The Future
The most danceable track of 2005 also had the best lyric: "I'm a man, not a disco ball." To say nothing of the "We'll karaoke all night long/we'll Macarena till the break of dawn" chorus. Oops, just did.

6. JOHN LEGEND – Ordinary People
Ordinary people generally make for uninteresting songwriting fodder, unless they're being skewered a la "A Well Respected Man." The one timeless track on Mr. Legend's debut album is the exception that proves the rule, with a stripped-down arrangement for solo piano and voice that gives the words—none of which are of the $10 variety—precedence. One of the best ballads Stevie Wonder never wrote.

7. MANHEAD – Birth, School, Work, Death
Dark, danceable electro-take on The Godfathers' classic nihilist anthem. Come on, get happy!

8. LOUIS XIV – Finding Out True Love Is Blind
Glam-grunge crunch: like a rock & roll granola bar, hold the granola.

9. DAVE’S TRUE STORY – Blue Nile
Won't you let me take you on a sea cruise.

10. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – Tribulations
Possibly ephemeral but nonetheless temporarily perfect dance floor angst/bliss.

This year, the other 90 best songs speak for themselves...

11. KATE BUSH - Nocturn
12. KATE BUSH - Aerial
13. KENNEDY - Your Mama
14. FEIST – Inside And Out
15. ELECTRIC SIX – Dance Epidemic
16. ELKLAND – I Need You Tonight
17. GORILLAZ – Feel Good Inc.
18. KANYE WEST - We Major
19. PITTY SING - Anyway
20. GROUP SOUNDS - Things Fall Apart

21. SAINT ETIENNE – Stars Above Us
22. ANNIE LENNOX - Why (Live at Live8)
24. MY MORNING JACKET - Wordless Chorus
25. STARS – Ageless Beauty
26. LES BREASTFEEDERS – Ostrogoth-a-gogo
27. COMMON – Be (Intro)
29. KYLIE MINOGUE - Lovin' You
30. LITTLE BARRIE – Move On So Easy

31. TSAR - Wrong
32. ART BRUT – Emily Kane
33. M83 - Don't Save Us From The Flames
34. SUFJAN STEVENS – Decatur
35. M.I.A. - $10
36. MAXIMO PARK – Apply Some Pressure
37. THE PILLCRUSHERS – All Of The Time
38. BLOC PARTY - So Here We Are
39. THE JESSICA FLETCHERS – Summer Holiday & Me
40. PITTY SING – Bleeding Hearts

41. SHOUT OUT LOUDS – The Comeback (Big Slippa Mix By Ratatat)
42. COMMON - Go!
44. THE TEARS – Refugees
46. IVY - Thinking About You
47. PERNICE BROTHERS – There Goes The Sun
48. HUMA - I Can't Sleep In Silence
50. CASIONAUTS - Up On Colours

51. THE MOTHER HIPS – Red Tandy
53. THE HOLD STEADY - Banging Camp
54. TIM BURGESS – Say Yes
55. THE BRAVERY – The Ring Song
57. MATES OF STATE - Goods
58. MADONNA – Hung Up
60. BLOC PARTY - Helicopter

63. LIZ PHAIR - Lazy Dreamer
64. BRENDAN BENSON – Alternative To Love
65. LADYTRON – Destroy Everything You Touch
66. PITTY SING - Telephone
68. BECK – Girl
69. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM - Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
70. RENO’S MEN – Phantom Power

72. METRIC – Handshakes
73. SUFJAN STEVENS - John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
74. FEEDER - Pushing The Senses
75. LIL' KIM - Lighters Up
76. GWEN STEFANI - Hollaback Girl (DJ Zax "Word Up" Remix)
77. IDLEWILD - As If I Hadn't Slept
78. BAUMER - How The West 1
79. FIONA APPLE - Tymps (The Sick In The Head Song)
80. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM - Never As Tired As When I'm Waking Up

81. ART BRUT - My Little Brother
82. RODNEY CROWELL - Beautiful Despair
83. NEIL DIAMOND - Delirious Love
84. THE GIRAFFES – Wage Earner
85. M.I.A. - Bucky Done Gone
86. ROYKSOPP – Go Away
87. THE TEARS - Lovers
88. SHELBY – The Golden Boy
89. IVY – Keep Moving
90. THE CAPITOL YEARS - Mounds Of Money

92. TOM VEK – I Ain't Saying My Goodbyes
93. THE WHITE STRIPES – My Doorbell
95. NEW ORDER – Krafty
96. THE PONYS – Get Black
97. GOLDFRAPP – Number 1
98. JUNIOR SENIOR - Itch U Can't Skratch
99. TED LEO/PHARMACISTS - Suspect Device
100. THE CRIBS - Hey Scenesters!

20 Favorite Live Shows Of 2005

1. STEVIE WONDER at The Apollo Theater, August 11
2. ABC at The Canal Room, September 9
3. ROBYN HITCHCOCK at Maxwell’s, March 26
4. HAMELL ON TRIAL at Fez, January 15
5. LES PAUL & HIS TRIO at Iridium, February 21 (late show)
6. BOB DYLAN & HIS BAND and WILLIE NELSON at Yogi Berra Stadium, Montclair, June 24
7. THE WRENS at Maxwell’s, March 12 (early show)
8. THE RASPBERRIES at B.B. King’s, July 24
9. DAVE’S TRUE STORY and TRIS MCCALL at Brennan Courthouse, Jersey City, June 17
10. STEVE WINWOOD at Bowery Ballroom, September 20

11. GROUP SOUNDS and THE HEAD SET at Pianos, August 17
12. DUNGEN at Maxwell’s, July 14
13. FRANZ FERDINAND at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, October 17
14. MOTEL CREEPS and THE PILLCRUSHERS at Luna Lounge, February 18
15. DAN BERN at Maxwell’s, June 2
16. KINGS OF LEON at Webster Hall, February 23
17. PAT DINIZIO at The Goldhawk, April 15
18. THE dB’S at Maxwell’s, September 19
19. JEN URBAN & THE BOX and LD & THE NEW CRITICISM at The Frying Pan, May 15
20. PITTY SING at Rothko, January 25

Even if it's a benefit show with guest artists and political speakers, there's no beating a full-voiced, good-repertoire-choosing Stevie Wonder at The Apollo. There just isn't. If you're ABC, you might sound great and play "Poison Arrow" twice—because why wouldn't you?—and if you're Robyn Hitchcock you might do a few Dylan covers and a disco medley. You might be older than God and still play guitar like a virtuoso if you're Les Paul, or you might reinvent yourself on stage every night like Bob Dylan or The Wrens. Your songs might be quietly brilliant like Dave's True Story and Tris McCall, you might be bringing back a retro sound you helped create like The Raspberries or Steve Winwood, or one you're too young to remember like Dungen. You might craft a perfect-sounding rock club set like Group Sounds, The Head Set, Motel Creeps, or The Pillcrushers, fill a mega-theater like Franz and the Kings, or make every audience member a friend like Dan Bern, Pat DiNizio, The dB's, Jen Urban & The Box, LD & The New Criticism, or Pitty Sing. You might do any number of wonderful things, things that are wonderful on their own merits and worthy of much praise. But unless you brought "If You Really Love Me" and "Sir Duke" into the world and can still sing and play them and sound like you did the day that you wrote them, you did not do the best show of 2005. Your best hope for 2006 is that Stevie doesn't tour.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Love Monkey 

Spoiler alert: if you, like, TiVoed Love Monkey last night, and don't want to know any of the plot details, stop reading now.

As the son of a lawyer, I was often amused as a kid that my father never watched TV shows about lawyers. He always insisted the shows weren't realistic, and that bothered him. I had no reason not to believe him. After working some years in the music business, I became convinced that any show about the music business would similarly fall short of anything close to capturing the realities of the job.

And it's probably true of just about any profession, and just about any show, including (perhaps especially?) reality shows. It holds that the more you know about a topic, the greater the chance you will find fault with anyone else's account of said topic. If you've ever read a story about your neighborhood, your company, yourself, or whatever in a newspaper, blog, or any outside source, you can easily point out any factual errors, of which there are likely to be many. This isn't because journalists are not doing their jobs, though some of them obviously may be careless; it's because it's really hard for any person not intimately involved with a situation, organization, or personality to grasp the entirety of something they're not really familiar with.

It's with these low expectations that I watched the premiere episode of Love Monkey last night. The new hour-long CBS comedy stars Tom Cavanagh of Ed as an A&R executive in New York City. I don't watch a whole lot of prime time network TV, but I enjoyed the first season of Ed, and not just because the bowling alley the show was centered around was a 15-minute drive from where I grew up in North Jersey.

In Monkey, Cavanagh's character—either conveniently or confusingly also named Tom, depending on your point of view—is more or less a mix of his previous titular Ed and of John Cusack's Rob Gordon, the protagonist in the film version of High Fidelity. So Tom can recall Sid Vicious' real name at the drop of a hat, he offers a misplaced testament to the greatness of Metallica's Ride The Lightning in mixed company, and and professes such a penchant for Bob Dylan that he gives his sister (who's married to a character played by Jason Priestley) a copy of The Essential Bob Dylan as a baby shower gift (in a double-jewel case, when the actual dual CD was packaged in the slimmer 2-CD "brilliant box" as we who peddle CDs call it), all the while mugging away with his "aw shucks ain't I a hard-luck yet happy-go-lucky kinda fella."

Not long into the episode, Tom gets fired from his A&R gig at Goliath Records for proclaiming naively idealistic sentiments about art taking precedence over business at a meeting run by the presumptive boss, played in a guest role by Eric Bogosian. Though clearly dramatic, this turn of events does hold some ring of truth; anyone asinine enough to pull such a stunt in an attempt to upstage the boss—in any corporate atmosphere—actually would run the risk of getting canned. Soon after, Tom gets dumped by his girlfriend, a singer whose music he never really liked.

By the end of the episode, poor ol' Tom lands on his feet. He gets hired as head of A&R for an indie label where he can work with a young singer/songwriter he had tried to sign to Goliath, and he instantly develops a flirtation with an attractive woman who works in the office. Ah, if only things were so easy for the many friends of music business friends mine who have lost their jobs and their girlfriends/boyfriends/spouses.

At least some of the show was shot on location in New York. One scene takes place on the island in Times Square between 43rd and 44th Streets, with the Viacom building clearly visible a block northwest. The Chelsea Hotel is The Chelsea Hotel. A gig that takes place at The Slipper Room was indeed filmed there, I've been informed—I initially wrote that it didn't look authentic to me. But TV lighting has a way of making the real seem fake.

The opening montage featured a few predictable and reasonable locations as establishing shots (e.g. CBGB) but also included the likes of Terra Blues—an untrendy Bleecker Street blues/folk joint that is not likely to produce a major-label signing anytime soon. The music in the show, at least some of which was chosen by consultant Nic Harcourt of KCRW (he's also listed as a producer of the series), was pretty good, if far from risky—early Talking Heads during Tom's visit to CBGB with the prospective artist he's courting, "Mr. Brightside" for the closing shot of Tom and the new office hottie pretending not to check each other out in an elevator.

Final verdict, after one viewing: a reasonably entertaining, watchable show. The writing is passable, there are some potentially interesting characters (some more interesting than others), and ultimately, despite the ham-fisted "cool music" references a la Gilmore Girls, the music business angle is mere window dressing for a show about a single thirtysomething guy lookin' for love in all the wrong Manhattan places. It's far from a "can't miss" show and one that, much like Ed, is bound to run out of steam pretty quickly. If you're home on a Tuesday at 10 p.m. and you don't feel like watching Anderson Cooper 360 or SVU, it's not the worst way to waste an hour of your life. You'd probably be better served by shutting off the set and reading a good book, but that's generally the case.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My site, MySpace, and my calendar 

As previously stated, I plan to have a new site, hopefully soon, at mikecmusic.com. At present, that address mirrors this site. That site will focus on private DJ gigs and music consulting, while Hoboken Rock City will continue to offer its unique blend of...stuff. Minor site tweaking is planned, and I aim to provide more new content than I have been offering for the past three months.

Coming next week right here: my best of 2005 music picks. Though this year's write-up will be a little shorter than last year's, check out my '04 picks so you know what you're in for next week.

When we were all flocking to Friendster in 2003, I took a quick look at MySpace too. At the time, it seemed awfully clunky, junky, and juvenile. When Rupert Murdoch bought the damn thing last year, it didn't make me feel like I was missing anything. Alas, I have succumbed. Creating a meaningful MySpace profile was something I put off forever, but forever ended recently. Friends can peep, holla, or add me here.

A calendar note... Instead of the usual Saturday, this week I'm spinning at The Goldhawk on Friday. DJ Pat Pierson holds it down this Saturday. He likes The Raspberries. I'm back at the 'hawk to close out the month on Saturday, January 28.

A few nights later, Wednesday, February 1, I'm back in NYC at Manitoba's. One of the few bars left in Alphabet City with its punk rock reputation still intact, Manitoba's is like an actual Hard Rock Cafe minus the sterile fixtures, the hapless tourists, and the crappy food. The bar is a cozy, no-frills space on Avenue B, its walls lined with an impressive collection of classic punk photography.

The place bears the imprimatur of proprietor Handsome Dick Manitoba. The voice of the legendary Dictators--the '70s punk pioneers who influenced generations of New York bands from The Ramones to The Beastie Boys--Handsome Dick can also be heard weeknights from 8 p.m. to midnight on Little Steven's Underground Garage channel on Sirius satellite radio.

Join me Wednesday, February 1 as I play some of my favorite punk rock, garage, glam, indie, '60s, '70s, and '80s tunes in this classic setting. Spread the word and bring friends. There's no cover, and cocktails are available for purchase at popular prices.

The next post to this blog will be neither personal nor self-promotional. No, really.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Third Uncle Was Eno And Bauhaus; First-Time Uncle Is Me 

Welcome to the world, Gianna!

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