Originally posted in an iWeb log on December 31, 2005
A mix of our most frequently played music in 2005
This year, perhaps more than any other, we were bound and determined to put together our Front Burner, get it copied, and mail it out in a relatively timely manner.
As you may already be aware, we had a major disruption in our otherwise often tranquil lives. What seemed to us like a straightforward decision to demolish our old kitchen and add on to the house in its stead led to the unplanned removal of the entire west wall of our house and the severing of all “utilities” to and from the house. Suddenly, we needed to move out of our own home.
In the wake of this, though, our entire stereo system was boxed up and moved to Erin & Chris’s house while most of our CD library was similarly stashed away. Our musical intake slowed down considerably. We had an iPod and small portable CD player with us, as well as the stereos in our vehicles. New CDs gradually followed us home, although nowhere near as frequently as they did when we were living normal lives at home. (Possibly a good thing.) In addition, several generous friends kept us supplied with recordings of music that they wanted to share, which was very much appreciated.
Besides the disruption to our normal listening habits, our entire lives were much more chaotic during our forced eviction. Life has just been just very weird from early July to late November. We will be forever grateful to our friends Beth and the Fishers for putting us up during that time. However, not living in our own home made even the most mundane things more difficult to handle properly. As Fall came upon us, the thought came to me that it would be very likely that we would have to skip doing a Front Burner this year.
Yet that thought both angered and inspired me. The music that we did listen to had a tendency to mean a bit more to us because of our predicament, and one of the main reasons we continue this project is to document our year, albeit primarily through the music we chose to play. If there was ever a year when we should definitely be doing a Front Burner it was this one!
So I started compiling ideas on paper and songs in iTunes. The use of iTunes (the app, not their store) was relatively new to us but now we’re total converts. It is quite likely that we will continue to “create” Front Burners using iTunes as it has turned out to have many noteworthy advantages over the way we have been putting these together in the past. If you have ever used iTunes you know of what I speak. Apple rules. Anyway, we chiseled away at this as time allowed and you have the end result before you.
One more thing. There are no “Emma tunes” here. The last few Front Burners have been sprinkled with kid songs and, for better of worse, they are totally absent here. Their exclusion is not an indication that Emma’s listening habits have slowed any. On the contrary, she is a more active listener than ever and, because of this, we are opting to compile a separate Front Burner of Emma tunes.
Anyway, on with our musical diary for 2005…
Wilderness – Archer Prewitt
(Thrill Jockey © 2005)
My friend Scott sent me a copy of this very early in the year. After the first couple listens it seemed pleasant enough, although not particularly striking. However, as time went on I began to seek it out. Sometimes I get restless with music and nothing I choose to play feels right to me at the moment. I found this album to be a certain cure for that ailment. Prewitt is perhaps most notably the guitarist for Chicago’s The Sea & Cake. Here he works some magic in some very intelligent, adult pop songs. In that respect it is not too dissimilar from his work with that band although the specific sonic differences are numerous.
Track 1: “ Way of the Sun” 4:53
• To me, a song about making the best of a bad situation. The line, “It’s the last of the candles, let me take one more look at your eyes,” makes me think of Cassi every time. If things were ever to really hit the fan in this world, the thing I would want most is to be with her and Emma.
Trouble – Ray LaMontagne
(RCA © 2004)
There’s an interesting story behind this guy’s debut album. Supposedly, he had no background in music until one morning when his clock radio woke him up to Stephen Stills’ “Treetop Flyer.” He was so inspired by it that he set about trying to create music of equal merit on his own. Years later he released this. At times he sounds as though he may be channeling Stills, but you can hear flavors of The Band, Van Morrison, and even Cat Stevens at times. They’re just flavors, though. He never comes across as too derivative. Cassi and I took to this album very quickly and spent much of early 2005 with it.
Track 2: “ How Come” 4:32
• While LaMontagne is not always political, my wife and I both tend to be drawn to songs of political and social comment these days. This sums up our feelings about this senseless war pretty well. What part of “Thou shalt not kill” does our current president and his cronies not understand?
Legs To Make Us Longer – Kaki King
(Red Ink © 2004)
This is a guitarist of incredible talent. Take the energy of a young Leo Kottke and combine it with the technical prowess of Preston Reed or the late Michael Hedges, then add an abundance of vibrant originality, and you’ve got Kaki King. Yet she’s only in her mid-20s. She has released two albums so far, and both have become favorites of ours. Even my wife, who is generally not the biggest fan of instrumental music, really enjoys King’s rather muscular style.
Track 3: “ Playing With Pink Noise” 3:02
• The three of us were lounging around the living room one day last spring, and a Paste Magazine sampler DVD was playing on the tube. We had never even heard of King before, and her video for “Playing With Pink Noise” came on. We all just stopped and stared at it. Not only was she playing some pretty amazing acoustic guitar but she was also slapping out percussion on the side of the guitar while she played. As you listen to this track, remember that it is just one person playing!
Spooked – Robyn Hitchcock
(Yep Roc © 2004)
Remember Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians? Although I was a fan, he had fallen off my radar some time in the 90s. It took Gillian Welch & David Rawlings to put him back on. We’re the kind of fans of Welch & Rawlings that we would go out and get almost anything they recorded. It turns out they’re fans of Hitchcock’s and ended up being his sole collaborators on this album. (They recorded the album together in just six days.)
Track 4: “ We’re Gonna Live In the Trees” 3:24
• The first song on this album is a sarcastic love song to a television. (“You’re the devil’s fishbowl, honey. I undress before your light.”) It just gets better from there, and “We’re Gonna Live In the Trees” has become one of our favorites. Emma knows the song by heart, and will even squeal “ROBYN HITCHCOCK!!!” when it comes on. In a way, Hitchcock is to music what Monty Python was to television comedy – completely off the wall and rather absurd, but really quite lovable.
Who’s Got Trouble? – Shivaree
(Zoë © 2005)
You have to at least take notice of a band that names their debut album 'I Oughtta Give You A Shot In the Head For Making Me Live In This Dump' (no, really.) Unfortunately, they slipped away for a couple years afterward. I later discovered that their second album, Rough Dreams, never found label support in the States. Who’s Got Trouble? is their new one and, as far as I’m concerned, their best yet. Lead singer Ambrosia Parsley (no, really) has a delivery that is equal parts sexy and weird.
Track 5: “ The Fat Lady of Limbourg” 4:13
• I found it nearly impossible to pick the track to include here, so that’s where Emma comes in. She took a shine to this one early on because it has lots of, in her words, “crazy sounds.” Shivaree covering Brian Eno and making my daughter giggle is just too cool to ignore.
Silent Alarm – Bloc Party
(Vice © 2005)
Believe it or not, I first read about these guys in Newsweek magazine, which is not exactly known for its musical hipness. They had a little 1/8 page thing on them in which they drew comparisons to bands like Gang of Four and XTC. That was all I needed to sit up and take notice. Then Acme Records (now sadly defunct) had Silent Alarm on a listening station. I sampled about four songs and knew I was on to something tasty. Their energy is undeniable and quite infectious. I listen to this one a lot while driving.
Track 6: “ Positive Tension” 3:54
• I love the squelchy (sound of tension?) introduction to this as it leads into a very rubbery bass line and frenetic drumming. Due more to it’s overall sound than the lyrics (which I’m not sure I fully understand) this is probably one of my top three songs on their album. Sometimes I just like the colors of a song.
Burn the Maps – The Frames
(Anti © 2005)
After falling under the spell of The Frames last year (see FB 2004) I was excited to hear of their plans to release a new album in 2005. Burn the Maps is a harder record than much of what I know of their work, and it actually took me a while to warm up to this one, but I have grown to like it quite a bit. This is another CD that, for one reason or another, I didn’t listen to much around the house. As such, Cassi and Emma are not as familiar with this one.
Track 7: “ Finally” 4:53
• I’m pretty sure that every one of us can relate to “want(ing) something so much it’s drawing trouble on your life.” Singer Glen Hansard seems to just revel in this blind determination here. The payoff being to have “found something so good it’s hard to focus on what’s right.” The blinders are on, but you don’t care. I, for one, can relate!
Guero – Beck
(Interscope © 2005)
My friend John the “Scissor Man” gave me a copy of this in early summer and I just loved it. In fact, all indications are that I had an unusually extreme reaction to it. No one else that I have talked to seems to even like it, let alone be as obsessed with it as I am. Putting it on around Cassi is guaranteed to get her to ask, “Who is that?!” It’s never a good sign when she asks the question that way. To me, this is a delightfully eclectic, quirky, and sometimes downright weird album. Before the old kitchen demolition started over six months of chaotic living for us I had this, The Frames, and Bloc Party on regular rotation while working on Emma’s playground out back.
Track 8: “ Que Onda Guero” 3:30
• Okay, we’re no fans of rap, but perhaps we would be if more of it sounded like this. It’s a very silly song. Emma calls it “the vegetable man song.” We sing it together in the van and Cassi just rolls her eyes. (She’s grinning, too, though.) I love all the shouts about popsicles melting, taking ceramics classes, and Michael Bolton. Beck is wonderfully strange. And he’s hard to pin down, too. This song is nothing like any other on the album, and I could claim the same thing for any song on it.
The Mighty Rearranger – Robert Plant
(Sanctuary © 2005)
After Led Zeppelin broke up, I followed lead singer Robert Plant’s career for a while but his output was spotty. He actually stopped recording original material altogether in 1993. Then, in 2002, he released a collection of mostly covers, Dreamland, and it turned out to be one of the best albums of his career. Being a big Zeppelin fan and forever wanting Plant records to be as good, I sat up and took notice. He followed it this year with The Mighty Rearranger. The all-original material included here proves that Plant has talent to spare. It is a beguiling mix of heady rock & roll and blues, influenced by the sounds of northern Africa. He can’t help but occasionally step foot in Zeppelinesque territory, but never leans so hard in that direction that it feels the least bit awkward.
Track 9: “ Another Tribe” 3:16
• You were probably wondering when the sociopolitical songs were going to come back in! Front Burners wouldn’t be complete without them. Regardless, it’s a good one.
In Between Dreams – Jack Johnson
(Brush Fire © 2005)
A couple years ago, Jenny K turned me on to Jack Johnson with a copy of his (and various other artists’) surfer movie soundtrack, Thicker Than Water. I loved how laid back it was. Knowing that I was interested, Erin was kind enough to give me copies of Brushfire Fairytales and then, this year, In Between Dreams. JJ is not exactly a master of variation but what he does he does very well. I read an interview with him where he said he “auditions” songs for friends and family (including kids) on his front porch. If it isn’t appropriate and/or acceptable for his friends and family, he doesn’t record it. I like that idea.
Track 10: “ Good People” 3:28
• You know our politics by now, and most of you know our feelings about television. Suffice it to say that we agree with Johnson here, wholeheartedly. We do, indeed, “got heaps and heaps of what we sow.”
Faultlines – Karine Polwart
(Neon/Scottish Arts Council © 2003)
You may have heard Karine Polwart before as lead singer of the trad-folk band Malinky (see FB 2001). She has become one of our favorite voices in traditional Scottish folk music. Here, though, she veers off in a much more contemporary direction. While we ordered this (an import-only so far) before our life got weird this summer, it became a very welcome musical friend to us when it happened. In a way it became the unofficial soundtrack to those early days of homesickness. We listened to it so much that the three of us know the lyrics to every single song on the album.
Track 11: “ Only One Way” 2:53
• It’s fun to hear Emma sing this one because it’s almost a kind of rap. It’s the first track on the CD, and a pretty impressive indication of what is to follow.
40 Days – The Wailin’ Jennys
(Red House © 2004)
Earlier this year, we were fortunate enough to catch A Prairie Home Companion up in Madison. (Thanks again, John & Penny!) We didn’t know who the guests would be until we got there, and were curious when we found that it was this trio from Canada. What an impression they ended up making! Cassi instructed me to immediately seek out the CD (they weren’t selling any at the show, for some reason) and I snagged one. It’s in a similar vein as artists like Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss, although they have obviously been influenced by British folk icons Silly Sisters (June Tabor and Maddy Prior.)
Track 12: “ Untitled” 4:27
• I certainly enjoyed this album, but Cassi really took to it. She and Emma would often listen to it while driving to and from Emma’s preschool. When it came time to choose the track for the Front Burner, Cassi did not hesitate to suggest this one.
X&Y – Coldplay
(Capitol © 2005)
Maria gave me a copy of Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head some time ago, and it tripped all the right triggers for me. For the band, the hype grew exponentially from that point. By the time they released X&Y this year, they were probably the most popular young band in Britain and quite big in the States. I wanted to dislike them, but I couldn’t. They’re really good! I picked up our copy of X&Y, started playing it around Cassi, and she loved it too. Emma doesn’t know this one by name but she certainly recognizes it when we play it.
Track 13: “ White Shadows” 5:28
• This was another album where it was incredibly difficult to pick the representative track for the Front Burner. I suggested this one, since I was enjoying all the very Zen references, and Cassi happily agreed.
We Are Little Barrie – Little Barrie
(Artemis © 2005)
Like the Archer Prewitt CD, Scott sent this to me. (Scott was a lifesaver with all the music he sent my way during our months of homelessness. Thanks again, Scott!) It’s a wonderfully fun record – very gritty and funky – as if The Black Crowes listened to a lot of James Brown. I find the associations we make with certain recordings interesting. Chris and I spent the better part of a rainy October Saturday taking truckloads of scrap metal culled from our little house project in to be recycled. (Thanks again, Chris!) I listened to this album throughout the entire day and, in my mind, it has become the soundtrack for cold, rainy work days like that.
Track 14: “ Greener Pastures” 3:36
• Some subtle sociopolitical references here, which is probably why this track won out. Musically, it is very representative of the vibe on this album.
The Lipstick Conspiracies – Thea Gilmore
(Shameless/Naim © 2000)
Gilmore has appeared on an earlier Front Burner (see FB 2003) and has certainly been a favorite of ours for at least a few years now. During the months that we stayed with Erin & Chris after our “eviction” from our home, we also found Erin getting more into Gilmore’s music. In fact, Erin and I seemed determined to make sure that, between the two of us, we would own everything in her catalog. (Gilmore is rather prolific.) This probably reached it’s peak when I got Erin a copy of Songs from the Gutter and she got me a copy of The Lipstick Conspiracies. It would be as difficult for me to pick a favorite Thea Gilmore album as it would be to pick a favorite song. Still, I have listened to The Lipstick Conspiracies countless times and will be forever grateful to Erin for giving it to me. It’s an excellent album, to say the least.
Track 15: “ Land of the Free” 4:43
• I’ve said it before but Gilmore is a contemporary, female Bob Dylan. Or Richard Thompson. Or Elvis Costello. I could probably extrapolate from there, but you get the idea. She is the single most talented female artist that I have heard in at least the past ten years, if not the past twenty. Musically, this track may be more laid back than the one we included on the 2003 mix, but listen to those lyrics!
Sweet Somewhere Bound – Jackie Greene
(Dig Music © 2004)
Some artists we seek out, some we trip over accidentally. Jackie Greene belongs in the latter category. His song, “About Cell Block #9,” was included on a Paste Magazine sampler and it just blew me away. I played it for Cassi, quite excitedly. She didn’t react as enthusiastically, but she liked it. Once I found the CD (his third) we were not disappointed. Much of it is more contemplative than that song, but Greene is a roots-rock artist to watch in the years to come. I hear influences of Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, even the more quiet side of Bruce Springsteen at times, yet nothing too derivative. And, like Kaki King, he’s only in his mid-20s, a fact that is hard to believe when you consider the maturity of his lyrics.
Track 16: “ About Cell Block #9” 3:46
• Okay, well maybe these aren’t the most mature lyrics! This is a kind of dance-on-your-grave take on getting yourself sent to prison. A bit cliché in theme, perhaps, but irresistible in it’s delivery. When the organ boogie kicks in just after he discovers his woman with his best friend, I challenge you to sit still.
Aerial – Kate Bush
(Columbia © 2005)
A whopping twelve years after her last album, Kate Bush has released a new CD. A double CD, no less. Kate has always been an original and innovative artist, a reputation she certainly maintains here. Disc One contains songs that are as close as she is ever going to get to singles, while Disc Two is more of a thematic song cycle. Both are loaded with unique musical ideas. That sounds cliché but I mean it quite sincerely. Kate Bush is a truly singular artist. She makes music on her own terms and does not compromise. She can be polarizing – I know that both Cassi and Tom can’t stand her – but I have been enjoying her vivid musical imagination since the early 80s.
Track 17: “ Pi” 6:09
• On this track Kate sings a song with the famous number as centerpiece, takes it out to over 100 decimal places, and the end result does not suck! The math geek in me could not resist that bait.
Snow Borne Sorrow – Nine Horses
(Samadhi Sound © 2005)
This is the latest incarnation of a David Sylvian fronted band. I think this guy has the finest voice in all of popular music and I would buy almost anything in which he was involved. He’s had some questionable moments in his career, but most of the time he’s spot on. This is a really cool album, arguably his best in many years. Cassi loves it, too. I didn’t find it until December, but played it so much once I did that it bumped two other recordings (most tracks are quite long) off the Front Burner.
Track 18: “ Atom and Cell” 7:06
• A very good example of Sylvian’s formidable talents, and a song that felt like an appropriate closer for this year’s mix. Bid you farewell!
This Is the Sea (2CD reissue) – The Waterboys
Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind (live) – Kelly Joe Phelps
Awake Is the New Sleep – Ben Lee
King of America (2CD reissue) – Elvis Costello
Magic Time – Van Morrison
Rest In Peace: Chris Whitley, 1960-2005 www.chriswhitley.com
Well there you have it, the music with which we spent much of our 2005.
We hope you heard something you enjoyed. Feedback in any form is always welcome, even if it’s just to tell us that you love/hate one particular song.