Monday, January 1, 2018

Front Burner 2017

It's pretty sad that this blog is only being used once a year these days. I have no excuse, and it's particularly odd because I'm usually thinking about music on a daily basis. If I spent half the time here that I spend on Facebook, this blog would look a lot different. (Something tells me that I'd be a lot less frustrated with the world, too.) Nevertheless, I'm back again for my annual roundup of the music I listened to the most; my musical 'Front Burner' for the year.

As has been the case for the past few years, I've been a contributor to my friend Bret Helm's "Best of..." blog posts. Every June, he asks us to list 10 new albums that rank as our favorites of the year so far. I mention this because, for some reason, my year-end list (I'll get to that soon) bares little resemblance to what I had picked out for the first six months. I can only surmise that this is because I listened to a lot of new music this year, and didn't spend a lot of time revisiting some of the albums on my "So Far" list from June. 

Top 10 as of June: (in order of release date, I believe)

Throwing Snow - Embers
PVT - New Spirit 
Ibibio Sound Machine - Uyai
Desperate Journalist - Grow Up
Clan of Xymox - Days of Black
Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
Ulver - The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Robyn Hitchcock - Robyn Hitchcock 
Todd Rundgren - White Knight 
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound 

On a personal note, I've been buying much less music these days, and my increased use of Spotify for exploration (as opposed to buying a lot of physical product) has saved me both money and space. Its quite likely that this has also been one of the reasons I didn't cling to many of these albums during the second half of the year but instead moved on to other things. I still haven't decided if that last factor is good or bad. From the June list above, only the PVT, Robyn Hitchcock, Todd Rundgren, and Jason Isbell were purchased in a physical format (all vinyl LP.)

For whatever reason(s), I moved on from there. By the end of December, these are the recordings with which I spent the most time:

17 Favorite Albums of 2017
1 - Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit • The Nashville Sound *  **
2 - Gary Numan • Savage **
3 - Fever Ray • Plunge
4 - The Clientele • Music for the Age of Miracles ***
5 - The National • Sleep Well Beast
6 - St. Vincent • Masseduction
7 - Desperate Journalist • Grow Up *
8 - Pronto Mama • Any Joy
9 - Ride • Weather Diaries
10 - Columbia Mills • A Safe Distance To Watch 

11 - Joe Henry • Thrum ***
12 - Offa Rex • The Queen of Hearts **
13 - Karine Polwart • A Pocket of Wind Resistance ***
14 - This Is The Kit • Moonshine Freeze
15 - Out Lines • Buried Guns
16 - Beth Ditto • Fake Sugar
17 - Father John Misty • Pure Comedy *

*   Also appeared in the June list
**  Recordings purchased on vinyl LP
*** Recordings purchased on CD 

Offa Rex's 'The Queen of Hearts' is a collaboration between British folk singer Olivia Chaney and The Decemberists. Their collaboration is a celebration of traditional British folk songs. 

My #1 album of 2017, partially elevated to this position after seeing him at the Chicago Theater with my wife and daughter at the start of his North American Tour for this album, then again two days later in Madison, Wisconsin with a buddy of mine.

Last year, I created a Spotify playlist with two sample tracks from each of the albums in my list. If you'd like to hear a couple songs from these albums, check this out: 

Looking for more great music?

Since 2014, I have been contributing my Top 10 to Bret Helm's Life On This Planet blog. He and his partner Sarah Q do a fantastic job with it! This year, they gathered 13 friends from around the globe to contribute their lists, and the blog post contains a link to a massive Spotify playlist that is just chock full of great music. Please visit the link below to take you over to Bret & Sarah's Best of 2017 blog post! 


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Front Burner 2016

Here we are again with a list of the new albums on my "front burner" for the past year. I'm certainly making no claims to evaluating all the music that was released this year. I also spent quite a bit of time with music recorded before 2016 this year and, unfortunately, none of that is represented here. What follows is simply a list of the 16 releases of 2016 with which I spent the most time. It was a good year.

My 16 Favorite Albums of 2016:
1. Shearwater • Jet Plane & Oxbow (22 Jan)
2. Savages • Adore (22 Jan)
3. David Bowie • Blackstar (8 Jan)
4. Kate Tempest • Let Them Eat Chaos (7 Oct)
5. Eliot Sumner • Information (22 Jan)
6. Margaret Glaspy • Emotions & Math (17 Jun)
7. Frightened Rabbit • Painting of a Panic Attack (8 Apr)
8. Angelica Garcia • Medicine for Birds (30 Sep)
9. Agnes Obel • Citizen of Glass (21 Oct)
10. Trentemøller • Fixion (16 Sep)

11. Public Service Broadcasting • Live At Brixton (2 Dec)
12. Kate Bush • Before the Dawn (2 Dec)
13. The Tragically Hip • Man Machine Poem (16 Jun)
14. Tangents • Stateless (8 Jul)
15. Kid Canaveral • Faulty Inner Dialogue (29 Jul)
16. Glass Animals • How To Be A Human Being (26 Aug)

I'm trying something new this year and adding a Spotify playlist with two songs from each of the releases above. (The Kate Bush live album is a notable exception here, as this release is not in the Spotify library as of this post.) If you're even slightly curious about any of the albums in my Top 16, check this out: 

In some ways, the playlist brings me full circle regarding Front Burner mixes. As a handful of you already know, I've been sending out Front Burner mix CDs to interested friends throughout 2000-2010, and was still copying my personal mix by request after that.

Looking for more great music? 
For the past three years now, I have been honored to have my Top 10 records of the year posted among some other great year-end lists on the blog of my friend, Bret Helm: 

Bret does a great job with this blog and I wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out. The other lists at that link are just as worth a look and have certainly provided me with some great new music to explore. There's a Spotify playlist there, as well!

My Favorite Album of 2016:
Shearwater • Jet Plane and Oxbow

This was my most listened-to recording of the year. It came out in January, and really never got very far from my ears. (Although I've been scaling way back on my music purchases, I actually bought this gem on both vinyl and CD.) I've been a Shearwater fan for many years now and, honestly, they just seem to get better with each album. In the most confounding, volatile, and contentious year that America has seen in as long as I can remember, this is a protest record. A protest record of a very different stripe, though. Here's how Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg describes it:  
"My idea for 'Jet Plane and Oxbow' was to try to make a protest record that wasn’t dumb or preachy. The more grand or triumphant the songs sounded, the more conflicted the lyrics became, which I really liked. It reminded me of a breakup letter — the kind that’s furious and tender at the same time, because it’s written with love."

Two Very Honorable Mentions
David Bowie's 'Blackstar' album was released on his 69th birthday on January 8, 2016. On January 10, the news was released that Bowie had passed away following an 18-month battle with cancer. It seemed to catch everyone completely off guard. That fact alone would have made 'Blackstar' a special recording, but the album itself was excellent! Even recording while battling a fatal illness that had to be taking a toll on him physically and emotionally, the man created a work of art that easily stands among some of his best work. And it stands as a poignant farewell to his fans. 'Blackstar', the powerful Savages album, and 'Jet Plane and Oxbow' were all strong candidates for my #1 album thoughout the year. In my list, those top three are fairly easily interchangeable.

It turns out that Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg is also a big David Bowie fan. As they were heading out on tour for 'Jet Plane and Oxbow', the band managed to find the time to work up their version of not just a Bowie song or two, but the entirety of his 1979 'Lodger' album. Midway through the year, Shearwater had started a crowd sourcing fundraiser to offer 'Shearwater Plays Lodger' to fans. It's truly a labor of love, and makes it abundantly clear that there is a Bowie influence in Shearwater.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Front Burner 2015

Recapping the most played music around our place during the past year, with an intentional focus on current releases. 

For the past two years now, I have been honored to have my Top 10 records of the year posted among some other great year-end lists on the blog of my friend, Bret Helm: 
Bret does a great job with this blog and I wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out. The other lists at that link are just as worth a look and have certainly provided me with some great new music to explore.

Here are my Top 15 favorite albums of 2015, along with (my daughter) Emma's Top 5.  I'm proud that she has explored enough new music to find that many favorites released this year.  All but one title is also on my list, largely because her main conduit for new music is still her old man. Still, her list consists of albums that she truly loves.

My Top 15 of 2015:
1.  Frank Turner • Positive Songs For Negative People (released 7 Aug)
2.  Jason Isbell • Something More Than Free (17 Jul)
3.  Of Monsters and Men • Beneath the Skin (9 Jun)
4.  Courtney Barnett • Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (25 Mar)
5.  Torres • Sprinter (5 May)
6.  St Germain • St Germain (9 Oct)
7.  Alabama Shakes • Sound & Color (21 Apr)
8.  The Dead Weather • Dodge and Burn (25 Sep)
9.  Holly Herndon • Platform (19 May)
10. Public Service Broadcasting • The Race For Space (23 Feb)
11. Africa Express Presents Terry Riley's In C Mali (3 Feb)
12. Dub Syndicate • Hard Food (9 Jan)
13. Chelsea Wolfe • Abyss (7 Aug)
14. Christopher Paul Stelling • Labor Against Waste (10 Jun)
15. Boots • Aquaria (13 Nov)

Emma's Top 5:
1. Of Monsters and Men • Beneath the Skin (9 Jun)
2. Frank Turner • Positive Songs For Negative People (released 7 Aug)
3. The Dead Weather • Dodge and Burn (25 Sep)
4. Iron Maiden • Book Of Souls (4 Sep)
5. Jason Isbell • Something More Than Free (17 Jul)

My #1 album of 2015 (as well as Emma's #2) - I only just discovered Frank Turner a year or two ago, but I have become a devoted fan. It's going to sound cliche to say that his music is uplifting, but it is. Rarely have I ever encountered such a positive outlook on life in song without coming across sappy or disingenuous. In addition, his live shows are an experience to behold. He can turn a venue full of complete strangers into a room full of swaying, bouncing friends in under a half dozen songs. Even complete strangers to his music walk away with smiles on their faces and blood pumping faster. That's certainly how I became a Frank Turner fan. Emma agrees, having just attended her first Frank Turner show in Milwaukee on December 11.

Meeting Frank Turner at The Majestic in Madison WI

Stop Start ... Stop

I came here on New Year's Eve to post about my favorite music of 2015.  I was well aware that I had let the blog go dormant for a while, but was surprised to see that my last post was all the way back in late February!  One of my resolutions for the coming year should probably be to log in here just a leeeeetle bit more frequently.  To the scant few who actually follow any of this, my sincere apologies for the lapse.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Music Gifts from Arizona

Out of the clear blue, I got a package in the mail from an address that I didn't recognize in Arizona.  Inside was an awesome gift of records and miscellaneous good cheer from Bret Helm and Brent Berg.  I know both of them from vinyl enthusiasm groups on Facebook, and they are both all around good guys.  Bret manages the Life On This Planet blog that I have praised elsewhere on this blog and is also a member of the band Audra.  Brent runs an independent record store in Scottsdale called The Record Room, voted best vinyl record store in that area in 2013.  Some day, I sincerely hope to visit him there.  These gentlemen conspired to make my day by sending me some very cool items.  Check this out...

Inside was a killer Record Room T-shirt, bumper sticker, promo flyer, two LPs, and a 10" EP.

click for larger image
The first thing I needed to put on the turntable was, 'Lonely Is An Eyesore,' a 1987 compilation of artists on the 4AD label including Colourbox, This Mortal Coil, The Wolfgang Press, Dead Can Dance, Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, and Clan of Xymox. I have lusted after this one for quite a while, and I'm blown away to finally have a copy of it.  This is not an easy one to find, especially in the American midwest.  Gorgeous 23 Envelope cover art and printed inner sleeve.  Aw yeah.

click for larger image

Also included was Gene Loves Jezebel's Discover album.  Many moons ago, a few of us were sharing a GLJ vibe in the Vinyl Community and I mentioned that Discover was one of the few early GLJ records that I still haven't found.  One of these guys saw that, remembered it, and picked up a copy of this record when they spotted a copy.  It's that kind of thoughtfulness and generosity that keeps me tied to the VC, irrespective of how large and fragmented the group has become.

The record that completely blew me away, though, was the 5-track 10" EP from the band Psi Com, which was Perry Farrell's band before Jane's Addiction, Porno For Pyros, or his founding of the Lollapalooza festival.  

I'm sure both Bret and Brent knew this EP well, but it was Bret that I saw sporting a Psi Com T-shirt and talking about them online.  The band never made it past this EP, and because of that I assumed my chances of ever owning a copy of this were slim to none.  I am grateful for all their gifts, but this one really had my jaw on the floor.  Click on either label for a larger image and more detail.

The 10" record is housed in this beautiful envelope-style sleeve printed on recycled cardboard.  It was recorded in March of 1985 at Radio Tokyo, and originally released as a 12" on the Mohini Records label at that time.  This 10" version was released later, in 1994 on Triple X Records.

My sincere thanks to Bret and Brent.  As I told you when this arrived, I wasn't having the best week, so this gesture was particularly welcomed.  I am thoroughly enjoying this music, and I hope to get something just as interesting together to send to you in the near future.  In the meantime, thank you very much!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Summertime Bruce

When I was a teenager, growing up in Cleveland, there was no greater influence on my musical taste than the mighty WMMS 101 FM.  The Home of the Buzzard. 

Back before the days of corporate-controlled radio, stations like this had DJs that picked the music they wanted to play on their shows based entirely on its artistic merit.  The Buzzard was also one of the bad boys of midwestern FM radio in that they often put music on the air in advance of its release date, gave airtime to deep cuts and B-sides, played records in their entirety, and simulcast a wide variety of concerts from local venues.  This stuff was like manna from heaven for a teenager with very little disposable income, no driver's license and no car.

I was 15 years old on August 9th, 1978, and had yet to attend my first concert.  WMMS was celebrating its 10th anniversary, that year, and one of the festivities they lined up was a show from the Cleveland Agora featuring Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band. Darkness on the Edge of Town had just been released.  I'm not sure there was ever a more magical time for the band.  Everyone I knew wanted to attend that show.  For some of us, listening to the simulcast over the airwaves was just going to have to be good enough.  And it was.  It was an absolutely magical show that pretty much exceeded everyone's expectations.  Through the stereo in my bedroom in the suburbs, I shut out the world and joined the crowd at the Agora for what would eventually go down as one of the greatest rock and roll concerts of all time.  To this day, I cite that evening as being the night that I became a Springsteen fan for life.

Since the show was being simulcast, it was also being recorded.  Not only by every kid with a tape deck, but by others with more professional experience with such things.  For many years, I made do with cassette tapes of the show, first from my own tape deck and later by trading up to more "official" bootleg tapes.  With the advent of home CD recording technology, some of those tapes made their way to CDR, although many of those weren't any better than their homemade cassette source tapes.  More recently, the show has made its way to downloadable files, digitally tweaked and re-edited.  As often bootlegged as this show has been, and as highly regarded as the performance has been, it has never seen an official release from the original source tapes. ... Until now ...

Apparently, those source tapes were found in boxes loaned to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  You can read more about all that here, but the bottom line is that the Springsteen camp has just released (on triple CD and high quality download) the WMMS 10th anniversary concert from Cleveland's Agora on August 9th, 1978.  This looks to be the definitive version of a monumental - and personally crucial - Bruce Springsteen show.  You can bet that I'm all over this release.  I'm 15 again and in rock and roll heaven!

Monday, January 19, 2015

David Bowie - Fashions

Last Saturday, I spent a couple hours in Chicago's Reckless Records (Lakeview location) with a friend. Happy with the records we found, we made our way to the checkout counter. Reckless keeps all the actual vinyl discs stored on shelves behind the counter so, if you come to the counter with a stack of records, there's always a bit of a wait while they find this discs for the sleeves you have in your pile. It was during this wait when my friend spotted something behind the counter that would turn out to be the score of the day for me:  David Bowie's 'Fashions' - a bound book of 10x7" picture discs, released by RCA in the UK in 1982.

The moment I saw it, I knew I had stumbled upon a fantastic find. I had seen it shown by someone on the Vinyl Community Facebook page. I just never thought I would see one of these rare gems "in the wild". The price seemed pretty fair for such a collector's item, too.  There was only one catch; it was dirty. Not damaged at all, just grungy, like someone had stored it in a corner of a basement or attic where it had accumulated a fair amount of grime. The folks had Reckless had opted not to clean it but had priced it accordingly, making it a rather appealing deal for me. After deciding to pull the trigger on it, resigned myself to the idea that it was going to require a serious cleaning job before I could even hope to brag about it.

The following pairs of photographs are shots of various places on this book both before and after my cleaning job. I've posted them as thumbnails, but you should be able to click on any of them to enlarge. I encourage you to do so! 

The most noticeable grime was around the stamped edges of the plastic that made up the book itself, but this was also what had me most concerned. I really wasn't sure if I was going to be able to get the dirt out of all the divots and creases.

As you can see, it went pretty well. The back of the book was also pock marked with some sort of spotted grime but, thankfully, that came off as well.

So much of what made Reckless Records price this set reasonably was, to my delight, stuff that washed fairly easily off.

The sleeves for the discs were dusty, but that wiped away fairly easily. The sleeves had also yellowed, being the kind of plastic that tends to do that, but there wasn't anything I could do to reverse that condition. In case you're wondering, the discs themselves looked to be in excellent condition.

So here we have the finished product, looking really good, even if I do say so myself.

I'm not much of a fan of 7" singles or picture discs, but this particular collector's item was just way too cool to pass up. Here are the singles included in the book:

1A - Space Oddity
1B - Changes/Velvet Goldmine

2A - Life On Mars
2B - The Man Who Sold The World

3A - The Jean Genie
3B - Ziggy Stardust

4A - Rebel Rebel
4B - Queen Bitch

5A - Sound + Vision
5B - A New Career In A New Town

6A - Drive-In Saturday
6B - Around and Around

7A - Sorrow
7B - Amsterdam

8A - Golden Years
8B - Can You Hear Me?

9A - Boys Keep Swinging
9B - Fantastic Voyage

10A - Ashes To Ashes
10B - Move On