Thursday, January 26, 2012

What? Wait.. oh, it's WHAT?

I've never felt a more sudden, or impactful, emotional roller coaster (at least not one that was directly influenced by a video on YouTube) like the one that followed my first five viewings of this clip:

If you must know, I've watched 3:30 seconds of this ten-second clip so far, and it'll only get worse as the night rolls on.

Apparently, it's just a teaser trailer for a Super Bowl commercial, but if that Super Bowl commercial turns out to be a teaser trailer to a sequel of my single most beloved movie of all time, I have no idea what I'm going to do...

It won't be pretty, though. The battling forces of my desire to experience even a modicum of what the original offered me and my surprisingly paternal sense of protectionism of all that it represented might tear a hole in something. Something important.

Incidentally, if you watched that clip and had no idea what was going on, there's a small chance that we could still be friends, but it's going to take a lot of work.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The best of 2011 - #1!!

Man... I don't even care that 2011 has been over for 22 days already, last year's best album of the year is still the best album of the year, even this year.

#1 - The Aquabats - Hi-Five Soup!

The Aquabats, for the uninitiated, are international (and some would say intergalactic) superheroes, bent on ridding the world of buzzkills and bullies, once and for all. I once heard them described as "The undisputed champions of nerd-core" and that fits pretty well, so I'm going to steal it. I'm also not going to give credit where it's due, because I have absolutely no idea where I heard it. For all I know, I made it up, and I'll be damned if I'm going to give me credit for using something I made up.

I'm getting off-track.

I feel like I should give some background on these guys, though, since I can't help but notice that this album utterly failed to make any top 10, 20, or even 50, list that I saw for 2011, and that leads me to believe that just not enough people know about the Aquabats, otherwise they would have heard the record and rejoiced that their ears had been blessed with such awesomeness.

I first discovered the Aquabats when I was in high school, shortly after their debut record, Return of the Aquabats! dropped back in 1996. At the time, they were a ska band, had a hopping horn section and were recording songs like Lobster Bucket!, which I stumbled upon (looooong before there needed to be capitals on those two words) on some lyrics website while I should have been studying in the school library.

From there, they gained some fame in California for being so damned awesome, recruited one Travis Barker to play drums for them (who would later be snatched up while they were opening for Blink-182 on tour in '98) and recorded/released Fury of the Aquabats! in 1997.

1999's Aquabats vs. the Floating Eye of Death! was the start of a different sound for the 'Bats, moving slightly away from ska and more in line with the band's musical heroes, Devo.

Then came a time known as the Dark Ages for Aquabats fans. Things were looking grim. The 'Bats were dropped from labels because their stage shows (which featured constant eclectic/esoteric video presentations and guest appearances by the most nefarious villains and aliens in the universe) became too expensive, and they were basically in the doldrums of a several-year recording hiatus.

Then in 2005, Charge!! was released and new life was breathed into the band. They got back into touring more heavily, much to everyone's relief, and were back as a band for the time being. They had more or less lost their ska sound when Prince Adam (the band's remaining trumpet player) left, and transitioned into a more synth-heavy new-new-wave pop-punk thing.

Anyway, they're awesome, and they've always been awesome.

This record is, as you may guess from its eminent position atop my top 10, is no exception. It's got pretty much everything that The Aquabats have always provided fans: great stories, incredibly catchy tunes, danceable tracks and just incredible musicianship. It may sometimes get lost in the theatre of what they do, but the Aquabats are a group of ridiculously talented musicians, and it definitely shows in this offering, from the complex rhythms of The Legend is True! and Food Fight on the Moon! to the pop-reference-laden Pink Pants! and Radio Down!

Listen and love, and if you do, for the love of everything you hold dear, SEE THESE MEN IN CONCERT! It will be unlike anything you've ever experienced, and you will be changed for the better.

Here are a few tunes from Hi-Five Soup! to get you started:

The Legend is True!:

Hey Homies!:

Radio Down! (featuring Biz Markie):

And, as a special something, a blast from the past! From 1997's Fury of the Aquabats!, I present, Super Rad!: (Watch at around 1:28 for a still-tattoo-less Travis Barker, and later in costume on the snare)

You're welcome.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The best of 2011 - #2

Sorry for the delay, but here we are: the penultimate album of last year, and although 2011 is rapidly receding into the mists of the past, this album will be in heavy rotation on my iPod for quite some time, and I doubt very much that I'm alone in that.

 #2 - Robbie Robertson - How to Become Clairvoyant

Robbie Roberson has been producing (in every sense of the word) amazing music for decades, from the classic hits with The Band to his impressive solo repertoire, and he's clearly not nearly done yet.
How to Become Clairvoyant ranges from the spiritual exploration of Straight Down the Line to the melancholy wistfulness of the title track to the nostalgic poignancy of an aging (aged?) hippy, which teeters on the edge of outright despair, in When the Night was Young.
Throughout all, Robertson sprinkles the prefect lick, riff and harmony in exactly the right spot, as only he can. 

The other thing amazing thing about this album is the number of musicians that appear alongside Robertson on many of the tracks. When you can attract names like Eric Clapton, Tom Morello, Steve Winwood and Trent Reznor, it's pretty clear how respected, and inter-generational, your music is.

Not that Robertson is new to collaborations, obviously, but he doesn't just rehash what's been done before, either in terms of his musical partners (although who wouldn't want to hear another track backed by Peter Gabriel?) or in terms of the music itself.

There's a general style and feel to Clairvoyant that harkens back to his amazing 1987 solo debut, but does it in a way that makes both albums feel new, rather than aging this one.

It's awesome. Listen to it. All of it. Over and over again.

Possible my favourite (in a really, really tight race) track on the album – Straight Down the Line:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The best of 2011 - #3

So here we are - the illustrious top three albums of last year.

Without further ado:

#3 - Bruce Cockburn - Small Source of Comfort

Bruce Cockburn is an interesting case of someone with incredible musical talent, an unparalleled gift for lyric, and a drive so prolific that a petty, squabbling thing like a lack of mainstream success could hardly stand in the way of an enduring career spanning more than four decades and producing 24 studio albums and another dozen live and compilation albums.

Live in concert, Cockburn is a virtuoso. I got to see Bruce live at Convocation Hall in Toronto loads of years ago, and he remains one of the few people that could so easily captivate an audience of hundreds for hours by himself with only a spotlight and a guitar.

Small Source of Comfort is an amazing album, and a good snapshot of Bruce's music. Ranging from the tongue-in-cheek to the spiritual to the political and back again.

Called Me Back is a snapshot into a simple train of thought after an irritating snub by a friend. Each One Lost should be played at every since Remembrance Day ceremony from now on - I've not heard a tribute for fallen soldiers like it.

Listening through, you get simple plucked guitar and complex rhythm and instrumentation, and - particularly in Call Me Rose, which I picked as the standout track - his tribute prodigious gift for starting songs with non sequitors that make even the most casual or unphasable listener stand up and pay attention.

Observer, and then get thee to some speakers to listen to the rest of the album.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The best of 2011 - #4-5

Here we go - breaking into the top 5.

In the last few weeks, I've heard several people who normally are pretty bang-on about these things say that 2011 was something of a dismal year for music, but I can't see how that's even possible, unless the requirement for a good year in music is for Arcade Fire to release an album, or for Nickelback to not release one...

Either way, it was awesome, and my top 10 are so close together in general that even as I'm posting these I'm still shuffling them around as we speak.

But as we get closer I'm just running out of albums. I've got five left, so I guess I'm on to the top five with not a ton of wiggle room.

#5 - The Decemberists - The King is Dead

See... this is what I'm talking about. Until I started writing the second portion of this post, The King Is Dead was number three on my list. Now it's number five, because as stupendous as it is, it just can't go ahead of #4, and I couldn't bear to put it ahead of what is now number three... or maybe number two... but I digress. Back to The Decemberists.

This was a *really* early addition to 2011's catalogue, released just about an entire year ago now, and it's so good, so satisfying and so easy to listen to that it feels like it's been around a lot longer than that.

As a big, big fan of words, I can't help but admire Colin Meloy's wordsmithery when it comes to some of the phrases involved in this album's songs. He's able to be folksy without being dumbed down, but is at the same time able to keep the words elevated without resorting to pomposity.

Unlike me, apparently.

Anyway, since The Decemberists were really not on my radar at all before the release of this album, I haven't got a lot of history with them, or much insight into where/how The King Is Dead fits in with the rest of their discography, but I can say that they've won themselves a new fan. Hard.

#4 - Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What

Every now and then I stand in awe of people who can just blatantly fly in the face of the idea that everyone has a somehow limited amount of excellence in them. Then 2011 rolls around and Paul Simon of all people releases a brand new album.

People who have been writing worldwide hits and inspirational examples of musical brilliance for very nearly a half-century really ought to have run out of awesome by now, but apparently it's just most of them that do that. This guy, on the other hand, apparently has loads of awesome left over for the world to enjoy.

This album, in addition to being an example of Simon's enduring mastery of songwriting, is a more spiritual exploration than is usual for him. While there are hints and allusions to his previous work (the "bomb in the marketplace" reference in Love is Eternal Sacred Light tying back to Graceland's Boy in the Bubble nicely) the overall tone is much more pensive, personal and introspective.

It's not a complete departure, though, and still has musical echoes of the African percussive/rhythmic elements that made Graceland such a groundbreaking venture. That's where Dazzling Blue comes in, the track that I thought would be the best choice for a standout example song, although you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't give serious attention to the entire album, particularly The Afterlife and Waiting for Christmas Day.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The best of 2011 - #6-7

The saga continues with my entirely-unasked-for top 10 albums of 2011.

#7 - Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2

After the mind blowingly rad preview video featuring Will Farrell, Jack Black, Elijah Wood, etc, it was hard not to be at least a little deflated on the first couple of listens, but after the initial rebound from the overhype, things have settled in nicely for HSCP2.

Who would have guessed that three white Jewish boys who started out as an unremarkable NYC punk band would end up becoming one of the most influential, enduring and important hip hop acts ever?

I think what I like about this album the most is how hard the Beasties make you work, consistently, to get into one of their new offerings. Each album is different in a way you likely wouldn't have expected.

Take their previous three albums:
  • Hello Nasty (1998) - Sci-fi inspired, electronically laced, and awesome.
  • To The 5 Boroughs (2004) - Simpler arrangements, less production and awesome.
  • The Mix-Up (2007) - This is an instrumental album from a rap group. Yup. You heard me.

Which brings us to HSCP2, with its heavy voice effects, noisy layering and driving percussion all over the place, it's a new step, and one that maybe only the Beastie Boys could pull off with this much chutzpah.

#6 - The Black Keys - El Camino

After the atom bomb of rock that was Brothers, it was up in the air whether people would still be too wrapped up in it to give El Camino the attention it so richly deserves, and although critics have taken to it like Mayans to human sacrifice (too soon?), a lot of people aren't ready to bump Brothers from its heavy rotation spot just yet.

But they should. Once again, The Black Keys prove that you don't need the bells and whistles of rock production, a huge mini-orchestra (I'm looking at you, highly overrated Arcade Fire), or a crippling reliance on exhausted, recycled, cliched rock riffs and lyrics (you know who you are, Theory of a Nickel Creed bands) to make it in music today.

The imagined conversation that must have happened somewhere along the line in the youths of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney:

"You: learn guitar. You: learn drums. Good. Now, make something that nobody will ever want to stop listening do."

And then they did. Twice.