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oh boy what a year

25 Dec

Best of 2009? Well if you’re anything like me, you’re so far out of the proverbial loop that you can barely name a dozen albums that came out this past year, let alone come up with a top 10 of 2009. Heck, NME’s list of the best 50 and Popmatter’s list of the best 60 albums of 2009 contain a combined total of three records I willingly cracked an ear to this year, and even those (if you’re wondering it was MASTODON, BATS FOR LASHES, and FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE) barely got a full listen.

So what did? Well, I-Tunes stats tell me it was HONK’s 1973 softrock cut “Don’t Let Your Love Stand” that got the most spins in this household over the past year; I have only ex-MECHANIC Dennis Catron to thank/blame for that. But there was a bunch of stuff that actually saw release in 2009 that I also listened to alot, stuff I haven’t yet paid tribute to here at PS RECON. And this post aims to round up that lot, stuff that made this tough year a bit easier to swallow. The envelopes please . . .

1. Most Godlike UK Single of 2009: WOLF PEOPLE Tiny Circles/Mercy II 45 (Battered Ornaments Records) Jawdroppingly great, darkly glistening psych by a young band that keeps getting more challenging and nimble with their every jazzbluesprog twist n turn. This recording marks the end of flautist Ross Harris’ tenure with the band; for most of this year, they’ve been trimmed down to a 4 piece. But fear not: live, they’ve been absolutely shredding stages around town with TELEVISIONesque twin gtr prowess ever since. Their newest songs emphasize all manner of melodic, rhythmic, and compositional intricacies that promise WOLF PEOPLE will be the UK rock force of the coming decade. Get a seat on board their train while tickets are plentiful.

2. Best SST-Related Release of 2009: THE NICHE MAKERS Soul Sealed The Deal LP (Ten Rounds Publishing) Trippy new musical projects by Raymond Pettibon are a cause for great excitement around here. His cryptic lyrics are a kind of sound poetry: cliches and truisms are deformed, devolved and reconnected in oddly intuitive ways, leaving literal meaning to wallow in the dust of free association and lolling wordplay. The squeezebox-led folkies behind him play it sympathetic and warm, but are ultimately secondary to Ray’s very personal verbage. Anyone following this man’s musical development will note this is as fucked up and peculiar as his work with SUPER SESSION, SUR DRONE, and more recently with THE UNKNOWN INSTRUCTORS. Oh and the color LP cover is a beautiful mystery to behold.

3. Best Maryland Doom Release of 2009: IRON MAN I Have Returned CD (Shadow Kingdom) – Yes, WINO’s solo CD was biker strong, AGAINST NATURE’s most recent conjured up beautiful Italian soundtrack goblins, and REVELATION just put out a real powerful album last month. But recently Al Norris III (aka “The Black Tony Iommi”) pulled together a superior IRON MAN line up and bested them all with this great hard rock platter. The new singer has a croon that kinda/sorta reminds me of Merrill Ward during his SWA days, the songs are focused in a way the recent SHRINE BUILDERS CD wasn’t, and Al’s crunchy, string-bending rhythm gtr spew is totally captivating from alpha to omega and back again. Man, I hope these balding guys tour.

4. Biggest Scandinavian Mindblower of 2009: MOTORPSYCHO Child Of The Future LP (Rune Grammofon) Continues the overdriven psych rock of their last CD, but somehow the lead gtr is even more explosive and searching this time around (no mean feat, that). Nigel Cross rightly identifies an exploratory, late 60’s West Coast influence at work, but the raging hypomania that fuels this ain’t retro at all – the sound here has everything to do with The Here And Now. Like THE NICHEMAKERS you’re gonna haveta dig out your turntable to hear it. But once you do, you’ll barely be able to catch your breath, let alone look back.

5. Biggest Scandinavian Bummer of 2009: SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES Communion CD (Yep Roc Records) These guys used to be a major label fave of mine, and I admit I’d been looking forward to this for a long time. But oh man, what a particularly stinky, steaming pile of shit this one is. Anybody fancy some annoying, wanna-be OASIS schlock rock? Not me. Recycled ideas, worn out riffs, tired emotions . . . even the Arthur Lee “tribute” included herein is limp and hackneyed. I’m still trying to fathom where they found the energy to record a double record of such redundancy. This Communion is as stale as last year’s wafers buried deep in the cupboard.

6. Best Ex-Boy Band Member Release of 2009: DRACO ROSA Amor Vincit Omnia CD (Phantom Vox) I’ve given up arguing this guy’s virtues to my wife . . . suffice it to say you’re missing out on a gorgeous voice and some passionate performances if you’re scared off by his MENUDO affiliations. No brooding rock this time round ala his great Vagabundo rec; Draco’s squarely in his adult contempo latin-lover crooner mode, which will turn off a good 90% of you out of the box. But this guy and his session musicians got talent coming out their oídos. If I was a straight chick, no doubt my bedroom walls would be plastered with posters of this heartthrob. I hereby give you permission to swoon deeply.

7. Best UK Indie Rock Release of 2009: THE LIFTMEN The Liftmen CD (Twisted Nerve) Gal-led indie rock ain’t the first thing I reach for most days, but dammit if this CD ain’t getting me reconsider a whole pantload of unexamined musical prejudices. This Bristol band filters the joyous outsiderdom of early 80’s post punk (think FAMILY FODDER) through post-TORTOISE grooves to nice effect. The particulars they sing of (sickly newts, mushy peas, St. George tattoos) speak of that alienation which modern, low rent English life dredges up in all of us. But it’s main gtrist/songwriter, Neil Smith, who captures my attention the most. His inventive playing is oddly reminiscent of SLOVENLY’s Tom Watson, had Tom hailed from The West Country rather than The West Coast. The Twisted Nerve/Battered Ornaments label stable has given us real good ones – the CANisms of THE LAUGHING WINDOWS, the archaic lushness of BENEATH FIRE & SMOKE, and of course my faves WOLF PEOPLE – but THE LIFTMEN can hold their own admirably in this company.

8. Best Archival Release of 2009: LOVE Love Lost CD (Sundazed) If only miserable folkies like Richie Unterberger hadn’t highjacked Arthur Lee’s legacy, more people would be checking out the very substantial, soulful work he produced throughout the decade after Forever Changes. These unreleased Columbia tapes from ’71 be ample proof of that. This wasn’t intended to be a full album, but full it indeed feels – brimming with post Hendrix jams and succinct acoustic songs that are mind expanding but far more coherent than anyone ever wanted to believe this guy was capable of. If only all cracked geniuses had these kinda skeletons lurking unheard in their closets . . .

9/10. CD Reissue That Made Me Smile Widest of 2009: A tie, between the self-titled debuts from STRAY DOG (1973, Manticore; reissued by Esoteric/Cherry Red) and MORNING (1970, Vault; now on Wounded Bird). Both these recs have been constantly loved companions of mine since I was a young adult. Whether your bag is STRAY DOG’s crazed, over the top Texas bluesrock, or MORNING’s delicate, rural West Coast poprock, these albums are truly inspired, golden rays of musical sunshine. My bag has ample room for both. Here’s hoping new audiences will rediscover them once more.

The 60’s Will Never Die

1 May

It isn’t often that I go out for self-consciously retro, 60’s pop revival sounds. Being born in 1970 meant that anything authentically 60’s that was still around during my childhood had to be understood through the depressively distorting, earth-toned lens that was the 70’s. And by the 80’s? Well boomer revisionist historians (author Marilyn Ferguson, director Oliver Stone, ex-DOOR Ray fucking Manzarek) made sure we made sense of the Summer of Love through their self-congratulatory, narcissistic eyes. All this conspired to get me to ignore most of what sprung from the retro Paisley Underground & Cavern Club scenes in SoCal during my younger years. Me, I needed music much louder harder faster just to keep some kinda sanity amidst the sucker punch of harsh 80’s teendoom.

That’s why I’m still surprised when some willfully throwback, Beatle-y tune strikes me as great shakes. It ain’t the norm, ya know? And it doesn’t happen too often. But when it does, I dance and sing along as loud as I can, every time. Here’s one from each of the past 4 decades that still hasn’t left me alone:

kansascitymh81. THE LEOPARDS – “I Wonder If I’ll Ever See You Again” (from Kansas City Slickers, Moon Records, 1977) If you are a Ray Davies fanatic, chances are this band needs no introduction. THE LEOPARDS were the best lo-fi reproduction of Pye Records-era KINKS ever committed to tape. That they waxed it on a private label outta Kansas City in the just-pre punk years was the icing on the cake, and meant they’re now remembered as part of the foundation of what eventually became known as Power Pop. As great as this is, I reckon their 80’s LA phase (typified by their cult hit, “Psychedelic Boy“) to be even better. But this kinda jaunty, Anglophile pop was nearly unprecedented back in the Midwest during PETER FRAMPTON’s heyday. Lost In The Grooves put out a needle-drop of this on CD that was available for all of 2 seconds a few years back, but otherwise this gem has languished rarely-heard for far too long, tucked away on dusty collector scum record shelves. Reissue it, and fast.

mmpfront2. MAD MONSTER PARTY – “Can’t Stop Loving You” ( Pink-A-Boo Records, 1988) – When Paula Pandora went unabashedly cockrock, ex-bandmate Gwynne kept true to her 60’s dayglo roots first with her own version of THE PANDORAS (aka THE GWYNNDORAS), and then with further hot allgirl action in MAD MONSTER PARTY. They may have been a bit faltering and very much of a specific time/place, but the songs – penned by John Kling, later of Michael Quercio’s JUPITER AFFECT – were catchy, proud, and heartsleeve ernest. Plus they managed to avoid that cutesy, little-girl-lost thing that Susanna Hoffs beat to death with THE BANGLES. Shit this must’ve had Rodney B melting in his KROQ mic booth. MAD MONSTER PARTY even recorded an endearing cover of an obscure but totally brilliant LAST song, “Someday I’ll Have You“, sealing the deal for me. Everything you ever wanted to hear/see about these chicks and all their galpals is already documented over here.

2591523. LOVE – “Girl On Fire” (Distortions Records, 1994) If you never heard this, you missed out on the single very best 90’s recorded comeback by a bonafide 60’s acid casualty. Hell, this ain’t really retro at all; it’s the sound of someone ON FIRE again like he hadn’t been for a couple decades. Dig that “7 & 7 Is” riff quote in the bridge – Arthur’s retooled his classic sound for an entirely new generation. The BABY LEMONADE backing guys are ripping it up, and Arthur’s in total command here. Falling James called him “The Anti-Brian Wilson.” Surely, the LOVE man lives up to that rep here. Would that he’d put out an entire album of new material like this before he passed; it woulda been hot I tell ya.

frusa54. THE MAYDAYS – “You Don’t Have To Wait” (Flare Records, 2002) – Why is it that folks don’t revive mid 60’s true blue-eyed soul as often as our forefathers wallowed in it? I’m guessing that the white-guy imitates black-guy thing just doesn’t have the same potency it once did . . . or maybe it’s because most retro acts don’t have a frontman as talented as MAYDAY Pat Johnson. This band was a short lived Bay-area supergroup of sorts, featuring fellas who’d done time with everyone from THE CRAWDADDYS to Penelope Houston. This was their lone recorded moment. But the flip (“The Very Last Time”) is killer too, and can be heard on Pat’s MySpace – again, I mourn the full-length that never got recorded. Pat really knew how to write and sing a great song, and his band most definitely understood the subtler aspects of gloriously neo-Edwardian clad, rockin’ pop.