Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Surprising Example of Well-Produced Music

Yesterday I stumbled across a slice of mid-'90s esoteria-- The Crash Test Dummies' random hit "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm." And I had two reactions:

1. The song holds up remarkably well. I actually really like it.

2. It's really well produced. The instruments are wonderfully clear and precise, the stereo mix is excellent, and while it is definitely compressed, there are still dynamics within the track.

Unfortunately I have to upload a compressed .mp3, so it's not going to sound as great in this stream. But check it out. I'm really impressed and would be interested to hear what some of the more discriminating audiophiles in our collective think.

I'd also welcome other examples of great production.

Press Time Update: Right before posting, I went to All Music Guide to see just who the hell produced this anyway. And I guess I wasn't alone in my opinion:

"Thanks to Jerry Harrison's remarkably clear and focused production, Crash Test Dummies' second album became a surprise hit."

Production mentioned in the first line of the review... and it's a "celebrity" producer no less! Yay Talking Heads! (sort of)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Quinapalus Does a Few Year-End Summations

I'm afraid I don't have a top ten list in me this time around. I was kind of on my own pop-cultural planet all year. Here is a quick summary:

Album of the Year:
Nirvana: Live at Reading. This was one of the very few albums released this year that I actually got a copy of, and I've listened to it nearly every day since it came out. Listening to it now gives me a new appreciation of what a fucking tight band they were.

Album from last year I've unexpectedly grown to like:
Bon Iver: For Emma Forever Ago. I resisted liking this for a very long time, but ever since Drischord's post a couple of months back in which he mentioned how much he liked the last song, I've been listening to the album via YouTube quite often, and in the end may even have to get a real copy of it. It has really grown on me.

Concert of the Year:
Wilco, on Coney Island. Quite seriously, my concert of the year, in that I literally don't think I went to a single other concert all year long. And in fact, I didn't get off my ass to buy a ticket even to this one, Tex just had an extra ticket and convinced me to go. Don't get me wrong: it was a GREAT concert, and I can't think of a band I would rather have been the only one I saw all year. But I am officially an old man now, and I just don't get off on loud noises the way I used to.

Semi-retraction of the year:
I'm afraid I went too far in my condemnation of Mos Def's newest album. It's not up to the level of his classic material, but not all of it is abysmal either (even if some of it is abysmal). It's not something I listened to very much in the end, but my initial review was the knee-jerk reaction of a once-devoted fan, who is being much too hard on an artist for not living up to his past glory.

YouTube find of the year:
Perhaps the most brilliant example you'll ever find of a once-devoted fan being extremely hard on an artist for not living up to his past glory. I tuned in to this sprawling dissection of all that is wrong with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace simply out of curiosity, expecting to watch about 2 minutes of it. Before all was said and done, I had not only watched all 70 minutes, but was truly awed by the talent it took to put together such a hilarious and damning essay, and held a new appreciation for just how terrible and disappointing that movie truly was.

Writer I always underestimated before this year:
J.K. Rowling. Those Harry Potter books are actually quite entertaining, especially starting with the third installment. The later books in the series are also pretty marvelously structured, and I could (and maybe someday will) write a whole essay on the unique, very contemporary, tongue-partly-in-cheek way she has chosen to meld together the myths and fantasy stories of the past into her Hogwartsian universe. (I would probably title that essay either "Identity Politics and Demi-Giants" or "Myth and Multiculturalism"). I may have more to say when I finish the series (I've got 1 and a half more books to go) but so far you can color me impressed.

Overall theme for the year:
Getting into material I can't wrap my head far enough around to post about yet. Musically, I've been on another planet this year for some reason, and one of these days I will learn enough about the Baroque period, and jazz fusion, to write competent posts on both topics. For the moment though, I'm still in the phase of just getting my mind blown, and have nothing worth sharing to say about either of those things yet. I've also been trying to learn French, and am getting much much better at reading it (if not speaking, writing, or listening to it), and the richness of the French literary tradition is in some ways only really starting to dawn on me. It's also very freeing to be able to read something, and feel basically OK that there are sentences that I can't make heads or tails of, paragraphs I have to spend an hour on to understand, and subtleties that are beyond a doubt going way over my head. It reminds me of being a kid and discovering British literature for the first time, and having a great time just entering into this vast, unexplored world, without it being necessary to understand it all: the newness and the mystery were part of the allure, and I knew I'd understand more with time.

I think I'd nearly forgotten how much fun it was to run up against something totally new that you couldn't quite wrap your head around. It can be quite rejuvenating!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Year in Review Update

I discovered a giant, massive, glaring omission in my Year in Review list. That being... the reunion of Faith No More. It's not just the fact that they returned, it's that they put on an absolutely amazing show for their first time back. Seriously, this is at lowest my #3 music moment of 2009, maybe #2, hell maybe #1. And if I'm being totally honest, while I am thrilled that Phish is back, if you told me that tomorrow I could either have tickets to a Phish show or FNM, I'd take the FNM tix in a heartbeat. Some of you might hate this, but I don't think it gets much better than the following for music in 09:

Monday, January 04, 2010

Eric's 2009 Roundup

I agree with D's assessment that this was a good year for "good" albums. I heard a decent amount of new music this year, plenty of which I enjoyed, but none of which particularly excited me (despite all of the blog/NYMag-based insanity for the Dirty Grizzly Collective). So, here are ten albums that I purchased this year that I enjoyed to varying degrees, listed without comment (in vague order of how much I liked/listened to them, but not really):
1. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
2. Flaming Lips - Embryonic
3. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Beware
4. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
5. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
6. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
7. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
8. Wilco - Wilco (the album)
9. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
10. AC Newman - Get Guilty

As per my usual habit, this year I went through several phases where I spent weeks, if not months, listening to only one artist or genre. The phases proceeded thusly:

I). Winter: Bonnie Prince Billy and other sundry Will Oldham aliases -- Inspired by the high placement on last year's lists, I ended up picking up a handful of his albums, starting with Lay Down in the Light, which remains my favorite. This bled into . . .

II) Spring: Bob Dylan -- I hadn't been in a Dylan phase in years, and had mostly ignored his newer stuff. I was focused more on stuff that I hadn't played to death in high school (ie, Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks). I spent a lot of time listening to a great bootleg set of the complete Basement Tapes (can't remember if I posted about it, but google for "A Tree With Roots") and finally got really into Love & Theft. I also finally got around to seeing Todd Haynes' I'm Not There. I'm generally not a fan of Todd Haynes' work and I don't know if I liked this movie at all really, but because I was in such a Dylan phase at the time, it really hit the spot.

III) Summer: Michael Jackson -- I must have listened to other stuff until the Summer of Death began, but once MJ died, I listened to basically nothing but for a good month or so (focusing especially on the stuff I posted about in the linked entry).

IV) Fall: The Beatles -- I hadn't listened to a Beatles record in years. There was just no need -- I had heard every single note of every single album so many times that it became hard to derive much joy from sitting down and listening to an album. That all changed when they released the remasters this past year. The sound was definitely am improvement, though, except in a few cases (the stereo White Album especially) it wasn't totally revelatory. But sitting down to hear the sonic improvements and compare the stereo and mono mixes (I actually bit the bullet and bought the Mono Box Set, like the sucker that I am) forced me to actively listen to music that had long become background music. And Sgt. Pepper in mono really is better (except for a couple moments)!

V) Late Fall / Winter: Motown -- For the past couple of months I have been listening to literally nothing but Motown. On this message board I sometimes go to, a guy is going through and reviewing / posting links to download every single Motown (or affiliated label) LP, in order of release. Many of these are out of print on CD, though easy enough to find online (check out blaxploitationjive.blogspot.com). Although Motown is, of course, first and foremost, a singles label (and certainly many of the albums are nothing but singles with some filler), many of the LPs are fantastic in their own right. As a first priority, seek out good singles compilations (preferably in mono -- it makes a HUGE difference, no joke) for The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. But a quick top five album recommendations:
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell - You're All I Need
Temptations - With a Lot O' Soul
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - Make it Happen
The Supremes - More Hits By The Supremes (not a compilation)
Martha and the Vandellas - Watchout!

Motown basically has the best songwriting, the best production, the best playing (especially the drumming and bass playing), the best grooves, and the best singing. So its kind of by definition the best music ever. It's difficult for our generation, because it has been so muzak-ized by its use in commercials and movies. You definitely have to approach the music from a specific mindset to hear "I Heard it Through The Grapevine" as one of the coolest, tightest grooves ever laid to wax (it has three drummers!) and not a California Raisins commercial. But once you can, there's a seemingly endless well of amazing music to be enjoyed.

(Looking back, I spent the back half of 2009 listening to the greatest pop music ever by almost any account. While I certainly enjoyed Bitte Orca, it just can't compete).

I'm still in the Motown phase, though the lists people have already posted have given me some good stuff to check out and download from eMusic, before I cancel my subscription because I've now forgotten to download my allotment before it resets TWICE, which pisses me off to no end. Happy 2010!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Inevitable Soundgarden Reunion Finally Materializes

Only sloth and/or forgetfulness has kept me from predicting on this blog that Soundgarden would be the next major band to reunite.

I've thought as much ever since Chris Cornell released his floor-scraping, jaw-droppingly awful album with Timbaland earlier this year. And now the news appears confirmed. According to their website: "The 12 year break is over and school is back in session."

This is great news-- assuming that none of Cornell's projects from the past 12 years bleed into this reunion. Also, there's the complication that Matt Cameron has been the drummer of Pearl Jam for 11 of those 12 years and apparently has no plans to leave. So we'll see how it all evolves...

Q's Vic Chestnutt post

I'm still working on my year-end list...hopefully I will have some free time to actually finish it before it's time for next year's list.

In the meantime, I just wanted to add my own two-cents about the late great Vic Chestnutt. He was an artist I always liked when I heard him, even if I never got around to buying very many of his albums. In fact, I'm pretty sure I only ever bought one of his albums, 2001's Left To His Own Devices (on Drischord's recommendation, I assume).

I can't speak very objectively about my favorite song from that album, because it was one of those songs that in my early 20's I would have said "changed my life". To this day it's burned into my memory as a song that actually caused me to look at the world in a way I never had before. This song was like a sharp needle pricking my inflated, liberal sense of pride and goodwill, and letting me know that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about half the time.

Maybe the song is the stunning classic it still sounds like to me...maybe it was just a pretty good song that I came across at exactly the right moment for it to have a huge effect on my young consciousness. In either case, I present for you "We Should Be So Brave".

RIP Vic Chestnutt.