My superfan mix, set to Talking Heads. Watch it now before it gets pulled! Final episodes start tomorrow!
Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
I listened to American Top 40 religiously throughout middle school, famously running out of the room during the ball drop at midnight when WKBO played the year-end countdown on New Year’s Eve. In the mid-’70s, Casey Kasem’s voice was everywhere: countdowns, commercials and cartoons. It was inescapable, and that was OK.
Sadly, his last few months reads like one of the bizarre dedications he made every week on AT40. R.I.P. Casey Kasem
A little video I put together for your amusement<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/72149664″>new world otter</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user20088754″>Japenet</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
gifs via a buddy now works at National Geographic. The second I saw them, it was clear they had to be set to music
Album #50: “The Sound of Sight” — Ray Martin & His Orchestra (1964)
Does anyone remember stereo? I’m not talking about an audio element now so common it’s often dropped from the list of product features — I’m talking STEREO! Stereo as THE selling point of a record, stereo as a noun, stereo as a pickup line (“Hey, wanna come back and check out my —”), stereo as actual entertainment in and of itself. As sales of home sound systems took off in the 1950s and ’60s, record companies put out dozens of albums specifically designed to show off the proud new owner’s speakers. Some tracks where as simple and silly as a recording of a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth, while others recreated the experience of listening to marching bands pass by on the street. My dad had several of these records, and when we were kids my brother and I would lay on the floor in between the speakers and marvel at the stereo.
The most ambitious of these concept albums was “The Sound of Sight” by composer Ray Martin. Martin, a producer at EMI and the British equivalent of Henry Mancini, had written songs for numerous movies and TV shows in England, and used his experience to great effect in this epic LP. Dubbed “Music For An Experiment in Imagination,” “The Sound of Sight” was the soundtrack to 9 fake movies, each a different genre, each telling a story complete with sound effects and dialog — and all in STEREO! Westerns, tearjerkers, costume epics, film noir … Martin even included a cartoon short detailing the misadventures of a cat & mouse. No mere gimmick, many of the themes Martin penned were as good if not better than many actual soundtracks.
Finally, The Sound of Sight came with what is arguably the greatest album cover ever* — a fold-out wrap-around by cartoonist extraordinaire Jack Davis, with hundreds of characters exploding into view. You could look at this thing for hours and still come back to find little details you missed. (It was this cover, along with Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, that made me want to become a cartoonist.)
You can check out the album’s blazing film noir take below — with the awful pun “Hoodunit” as its title— and a large version of the cover here. See you in the pictures shows!
*I will accept votes for Herb Albert’s “Whipped Cream & Other Delights,” but that’s it.
#1 The Cars — Move Like This
The simple fact that I can write a sentence with the phrase “new Cars album” is reason enough to celebrate. That it’s actually a solid, catchy record is a minor miracle. 24 years after they called it quits, a sudden impulse overtook Ric Ocasek, and he decided to get the band back together one more time. Maybe he was feeling old, or, more likely, Ocasek didn’t want the awful Door to Door to be The Cars’ swan song, but whatever the reason, — OH MY GOD THERE’S A NEW CARS ALBUM.
Granted, it isn’t perfect: Benjamin Orr, who died of cancer in 2000, is sorely missed. A lot of people pointed out that it was Orr’s voice that carried the band’s ballads, and Ocasek isn’t up to the task, straining to match the gossamer tones the songs need. That said, Ocasek’s writing is as beat and whip-smart as ever, and the overall effect is incredible. They somehow managed to pick up their original sound as if they had stepped out for a smoke instead of taking a quarter century break, with songs that both recall their biggest hits and feel completely new. In it’s review, the AV Club said, “considering how many other bands have tried to make modern versions of classic Cars songs, it’s nice to see the original article doing it better than most.”
This isn’t just a nostalgic cash grab by a bunch of old dudes playing at new wavers. Ocasek’s lyrics in particular are world worn, a generational coda to the capricious cool of their top 40 hits. As one critic said, “Sad Song” is the bookend to “Let’s Go” and “My Best Friend’s Girl,” as though it’s sung by the same character thinking about how much he’s learned since. And “Hits Me” is clearly penned by a guy who been through it all and just wants to get to next week. It is their darkest album since Panorama.
And, still, it’s a joy. My brother saw them perform in Philly (at the Electric Factory no less) and said, while they weren’t a great live act they were never a great live act. Yet, it was absolutely clear these four guys were just plain happy to be on stage and playing together, and that reenergized youthful enthusiasm — along with a fans who felt the same way — made for a great show. While it would have been good to see them one more time, I’m just happy I’ve got one more Cars album to listen to, one that fits perfectly along side their very best stuff.
Honorable Mention: Daft Punk — TRON: Legacy
Technically, this came out in 2010 along with the film of the same name, but I didn’t pick it until well into last year. None of which changes the fact that I played this soundtrack in 2011 more than any record I’ve bought in years. TRON: Legacy — the movie — is seriously flawed and, I strongly suspect, would have failed if it weren’t for this stunning techno score. It is the best thing about the movie, and pulls the story along even when the plot, acting and special effects refuse to do so.
Beyond their driving synth numbers, the duo of Daft Punk — who, with their robot-masked public personas were tailor made to work on this movie (and indeed appeared as themselves in one scene) — composed a tight orchestration that is a worthy successor to Wendy Carlos original TRON score, and belongs among the most famous and listenable of soundtracks.
I’ve listened to it while writing, while playing games, while cooking, while folding laundry — seriously, there is nothing it can’t make more exciting.
I don’t do Best of Year lists when it comes to music, partially because I don’t think I listen to enough new stuff to make an informed argument (especially compared to all the audio obsessive-compulsives I know), but mostly because I really don’t purchase a lot of new music. I have never been in a hurry to pick up anything, and usually buy things years after they come out.
2011, however, was different: not only did I only get new music, I went out of my way to get four of those records the day they were released. Granted, I only bought 6 albums this year, but I was so laser focused on the picks, nothing disappointed. These titles have been my constant companions, and I feel completely confident in recommending them.
#5 Gorillaz — The Fall
The first of several Records That Shouldn’t Exist, The Fall is possibly the final release from Gorillaz, the fictional/virtual band that is a front for a small army of musicians and producers. They weren’t even planning on doing another album when someone decided to do this on a whim. Recorded on an iPad in the back of the bus during Gorillaz 2010 North American Tour, The Fall is — as one might expect — experimental, dreamy and playful. If you ever heard Yaz’s “I Before E Except After C,” well, that should give you a good idea what you’re in for — and if you like Yaz’s odd little opus, you’ll love The Fall.
#4 Lynn Blakey — Meadowview
It is difficult to convey how stunningly beautiful Lynn Blakey’s voice is in person, though her 5 song EP Meadowview gets close. One third of the alt-country trio Tres Chicas, Blakey’s new solo album was recorded with — and is pretty much about — her husband, fiddler Ecki Heins.
#3 Megafaun — Megafaun
Equal parts Americana and freak folk, with a healthy influence of ’70s strumming, this self-titled statement from Durham’s best band is like eating ice cream on a hot summer’s day while floating down a creek on an innertube. Here they channel Stealers Wheel in “Second Friend.”
Update: If you listen to NPR you’ve probably heard these guys lately. All Things Considered has put various cuts from Megafaun into heavy rotation for their bumpers (the snippets they play inbetween songs), and I just heard them again a short time ago…
#2 Phil Cook & His Feat — Hungry Mother Blues
One third of Megafaun, Phil Cook is having his best year ever — certainly his busiest — as he released a solo album on top of all his other projects. This haunting, heartfelt collection of original blues has been in my CD player since it came out, and is what you want playing as the sun sets and the sky melts from orange to blue to black. Here’s Phil playing at an emergency fundraiser for the Scrap Exchange.
…to be continued