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Faves 2017 (and David Cassidy, RIP)   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: Karl


THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND STARTS HERE... with FAVES 2017!  I occasionally hear from folks who want to know what music -- from among all of the posts I do here -- I recommend.  To some degree, I recommend all of it, unless I expressly write otherwise (e.g., it's not my thing, but it might be yours).  With the holiday shopping season upon us, I have tried to make a list of reasonable size.  It's an unordered list. I likely will have overlooked something that I really dig.  And note these are my faves; I'm not purporting to list the "Best" albums of the year.

THE REPLACEMENTS:  Why would I start this list with For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986, aside from my enduring love of the band?  Is it a nostalgic impulse, a escape from the fierce urgency of now? This year's list probably features more familiar names than usual, the consistent and steady in turbulent times.  But it's also because I'd still take last year's Drive-By Truckers LP, American Band, over most of this year's tide of topical tuneage (there are exceptions, as you'll see).  And here, it's mostly that this is a terrific set of songs from a favorite band that was notoriously erratic onstage. It's a worthy memoir of what this band could be, when the mood struck them. (I also like the fact that it's recorded at the now-defunct Maxwell's.  I never saw a show there, but Friends of Pate know that everyone's fave record store manager was from Hoboken and introduced everyone to the "college rock" universe for which Maxwell's was a touchstone.  The Feelies are on this year's list and were a part of that scene, as were Yo La Tengo, the dB's, the Bongos, Glenn Morrow's many bands, etc.  So it's kinda nice that one of top bands of that era's Mpls scene obliquely pays tribute to Jersey here.  Hoboken, no jokin'!)

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS:  If you're Stephin Merritt and you've been successful with something as ambitious as 69 Love Songs, it's almost more audacious to produce a project like 50 Song Memoir, in which songs represent years.  And Merritt largely pulling it off with his signature style and wit again is all the more impressive.  A tour de force of wry and melodic storytelling.

SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS:  To know me is to know Soul of a Woman was almost certain to turn up here despite having been released only last week.  But even if it were not my last chance to lavish praise on the late and fabulous Ms. Jones, I would still be writing that this may be my favorite from the band in years, even years before the Christmas LP and the documentary soundtrack.  Jones and the band reach a new level by more completely integrating their vintage soul and R & B influences -- Stax, Motown, etc.-- into a whole that rarely sounds completely like any of them.  They make it sound effortless, though we know it almost certainly was the opposite.  The production is also lovely, often putting me in mind of one of my all-time faves, Dusty in Memphis.  An album as long on grace as it is on soul.(Also in my vintage soul faves are Curtis Harding with Face Your Fear and Mavis Staples with If All I Was Was Black.)

FATHER JOHN MISTY:  Pure Comedy is a title clearly meant in the manner of Watchmen's Comedian declaring "It's a joke... it's all a joke," but meaning the opposite.  Musically, J. Tillman retains the orchestrated, early Elton John feel he brought to I Love You, Honeybear, but lyrically he moves from the personal to the sociological, casting a gimlet eye upon a dystopia marked by infotainment, social media and personal branding.  I prefer the personal, but as big as a jerk as Tillman can be, I admire his his authenticity.  Of course, if he was an employer, his willingness to offend would be no excuse, but it works within the context of an album.  (And if you have not acquired a taste for Misty, his former band,  Fleet Foxes, delivered a lovely album this year, Crack-Up, which puts some of the power of their live performances behind their tight, yet ethereal harmonies. Though I once saw a great FF show in summertime, the LPs always strike me as well-suited to the colder half of the year as cozy, cocooning music.)

THE MOUNTAIN GOATS:  I suppose if you already did a concept album about pro wrestling last year, following up with another concept album about Goths makes a certain amount of sense.  Given the subject, I suppose it's worth noting that the largely piano-driven tracks here (with horns, yet) strike me more as groovy than goth.  And if I'm feeling a bit nostalgic this year, so is John Darnielle, lyrically speaking.

SPOON: It's a very strange comment on the way that the internet has atomized a formerly mass culture that Spoon is a Top Ten artist, but there it is and I'm certainly not complaining about it in this case.  I tend to judge Spoon albums by how well they do that sparse, funky thing Sppon does and they they do it really well on Hot Thoughts.  There are a couple of tracks that represent that core sound, more that are a little looser while still being funky, and and afew where their sound lends itself well to dabbling in the sort of EDM thing the kids dig these days. Even when they're flirting with elements of EDW or disco, they'll throw in a vibraphone, or toss an electric piano on top of an acoustic one, because that's what Spoon does.  Only the jazzy saxes on the closer fail to move me; the rest is delightful.

THE FEELIES: The cover art for In Between seems to overtly echo The Good Earth, still my favorite from this seminal cult band of the late 70s and 80s.  There's also much on this album that echoes it musically, though some of Glenn Mercer's lead guitar squalls are more reminiscent of Time for a Witness.  All very solidly in the wheelhouse of a band whose musical poles are the Velvet Underground and Neil Young and fueled by their signature crazy rhythms.  All quite welcome to hear again.

THE NATIONAL: A common take on Sleep Well Beast is to salute it for evolving into a new groove, not unlike the turn Wilco made with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. And yet I have always thought of The National as a band unafraid to experiment and evolve, because that's pretty much what they did before Boxer.  Nevertheless, I suppose it would be tempting to stay in the general space they've occupied since and should get some points for not doing that. I prefer to give them points for the quality of the songwriting here, for a personal approach ringing so true that Matt Berninger had to assure people his marriage wasn't in imminent danger.  For those who want to read larger meanings into this collection, I also credit it with perhaps refelcting the mood of the times without commenting on them directly.

RAY DAVIES:  The legendary songwriter and frontman for The Kinks -- who defined that band by its Britishness and its devotion to observational and theatrical storytelling  -- returns with Americana, a more autobiographical work focused on the States. Muswell Hillbillies notwithstanding, it might be simultaneously the most and least Ray Davies thing ever. Of course, that he frequently enlists the Jayhawks for musical backing here gives the album bonus points in my book.

WOLF ALICE:  Visions of a Life avoids the sophomore slump, a stylistically diverse treat.  Some might be put off by its genre-hopping, the sometimes uneasy way thrashing punk sits next to softer indie pop.  But I started this list with the Replacements, so that would be an odd criticism from these quarters.

FOXYGEN:  Hang is another in that genre of orchestrated rock.  But this one makes the list because it is -- as any number of reviewers observed -- grandiose.  Of course, it's also very melodic, but I will carry the flag for grandiose when it's also as purposeful as this album is (and its much shorter than its predecessor).  Hang is a mixmaster, with Van Morrison, ABBA. the jauntiness of a British music hall,Todd Rundgren, the Rolling Stones (Jagger anyway), Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, and a seeming legion of other musical refernces all becoming grist for the mill.  The band gets valuable assistance from The Lemon Twigs (one of last years faves) and Flaming Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd in executing on these dizzying arrangements.

LANA DEL REY:  I'm not going to write anything about Del Rey, Lust For Life and 2017 that Katherine Miller of BuzzFeed News didn't already write better.  So you should read her essay; I'll be here when you're done.

ARIEL PINK:  Dedicated to Bobby Jameson does not seem particularly influenced by the obscure pop singer-turned-blogger.  Indeed, it seems very much like the distinctive blend of psych and prog pop filtered through 80s synths for which Ariel Pink is best known.  The songwriting and execution here may be his best since Before Today.

MARK LANEGAN BAND: He's had many incarnations and my fave Lanegan remains his work with Isobel Campbell.  But Gargoyle finds Lanegan and his band mining a sound that would have found a home on Factory Records with bands like New Order back in the day.  Lanegan's voice sometimes seems a bit out of place in this genre, like a bouncer at the dance club, but overall it struck me as a fresh-sounding album in a stultifying year.

FILTHY FRIENDS:  The thing about friends is that you meet their kids or their parents and you get the fun thing of noticing the way the offspring borrow from the gene pool in some obvious ways and yet have some features that are unexpected.  Such is the case with Invitation, the debut LP from a "supergroup" centered around R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker.  You can hear elements of both of those bands intertwined here, occasionally sounding like one or the other, but then suddenly reminding you of Television or Patti Smith.  In this way, it's both confortable, but just fresh enough to keep things stimulating, whiich is what you usually want out of your friends.

THE WAR ON DRUGS: A bunch of reviewers describe A Deeper Understanding as influenced by mid-80s Springsteen and Petty, and I suppose that's true enough, although this album is less pop and more contemplative than most of its influences.  Having lived through that period, it strikes me as very meta.  TWoD is considered classicist for drawing on second generation rockers / first generation classicists, at some of their less classicist moments?  Fortunately, the subtlety, maturity and cohesiveness of the tracks are such that I never get the audio version of the "uncanny valley" phenomenon.

SHEER MAG: Technically, Need to Feel Your Love shouldn't be on my faves list.  I so wanted it to be when I first heard about this band that promised a fusion of 70s swagger and Punk energy.  As a Friend of Pate, how could that not intrigue me?  Personally, I like the riffs, but find Tina Halladay's rougher vocals don't really mesh with them successfully enough of the time.  Perhaps ironically, her more conventional rock stylings on the "softer numbers" like "Suffer Me" and "Pure Desire" are a better match. All of that said, I decided to blurb it to remind Friends of Pate that they may want to listen and judge for themselves.

NEW PR0NOGRAPHERS:  I really can't call Whiteout Conditions a return to form, given that I'm a fan of the band's entire catalog.  I can say that I like it significantly more than Together, and more than Brill Bruisers.  Not surprising, given my love for power pop, as this album has more of that pop energy than its two most recent predecessors.

DESTROYER:  Dan Bejar skipped participating in the New Pron LP just mentioned, explaining he didn't think he had any material that would fit.  His latest, ken, would seem to bear that out.  Yet this album also finds its way onto my faves.  Bejar goes a little more electronic here than I might normally like, but he's also still channeling the softer 70s references that marked Kaputt and Poison Season.  As a result, the electronics tend to give me a vibe in the ballpark of late 70s Bowie or Scott Walker, with a whiff of New Order, if New Order were fronted by Lou Reed.  Which is a solid vibe.

BLONDIE: Sure, Pollinator is one of those projects where an old band gets help from the younger generation of musicians that loved them. And yes, the result is largely derivative of Blondie's salad days on the charts.  But it's a lot of fun.  If you like Blondie, why wouldn't you want another fun Blondie album, even if what they're doing isn't particulary innovative anymore?

THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN:  The Reid brothers returned with Damage and Joy, an album that fits very comfortably withing the JAMC universe without sounding exactly like any of their prior efforts.  One of their less savage albums, but maybe one of their snottier ones.  Rock 'n' Roll can always use snotty.  Besides, someone who loves guitar rock as much as I do can't sit around listening to the sedate, orchestrated stuff all year.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:  Mount Eerie, Paul Weller, LCD Soundsystem, The xx, Robyn Hitchcock, The Sadies, Thundercat, Elbow, and Japandroids are just a few of the others who did fine work but miss my list for reasons ranging from genre to laziness.

A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING:  It's always somewhere on the net.

WKRP: "Turkeys Away," in its entirety. And here's the turkey giveaway by itself.

THANKSGIVING:  George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation (1789).  It was controversial at the time.

TURKEYS pardoned in 2015 are living their best lives.

DAVID CASSIDY, the musician, actor and Partridge Family teen idol, died Tuesday at 67, following hospitalization for liver and kidney failure.  I won't make you click through for "I Think I Love You."

GWYNETH PALTROW is engaged to Brad Falchuk after more than three years of dating.

JOHN LASSETER, the prime force behind Pixar and head of Walt Disney Animation, is on a six-month leave  after acknowledging "painful" conversations and unspecified "missteps," he wrote in a memo to staff on Tuesday. He was the subject of a women's whispering network for decades.  However, Rashida Jones has denied the report she left Toy Story 4 as a writer, along with writing partner Will McCormack, over an unwanted advance from Lasseter.

NOW SHOWING: This weekend's wide releases include Coco, which is currently scoring 96 percent on the ol' Tomatometer; and Roman J. Israel, Esq., expanding wide at 58 percent.

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