Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bastardizing Albums: The Best Playlists of 2007

Ah, yes... 2007! The year that will be remembered for leaded toys and unleaded gasoline toying with us. And then of course hate is back, apparently by popular demand. Not since the civil rights movement of the '60s has the country--from Jena, Louisiana to Columbia University, New York City--been adorned with so many nooses. Nevermind Don Imus or the church shootings. But all is not lost. In 2007, it seems that everyone from Bush's most trusted confidants (they pretty much all resigned) to his own party (no Republican candidate is dropping his name too often), realized what the Dixie Chicks knew all along. Lead singer Natalie Maines told a London crowd way back in 2003: “Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” Of course, know you can replace "Texas" with pretty much anything and it kinda works: "We're ashamed the president of the United States is from THE UNITED STATES or IS REPUBLICAN or WAS RE-ELECTED TWICE, etc." It seems, Bush or as my favorite garage rock band under 14 (Tiny Masters of Today) call him, "Bushy," is fulfilling his own prophecy of being supported only by his dog Barney and his wife Laura.

Music biz-wise, 2007 will be remembered as the year that the record industry gasped its last breath, as digital music reigned supreme. People realized two simple things: Who buys albums anymore and whoever liked every single track on any given album to begin with? I can probably count with one hand how many albums are solid masterpieces from track 1 to track X. I know this is probably a bit acerbic to the music purist or to musicians, but to the music fanatic with not enough time to sit through shabby tracks to get to the gems, the new digital age is a very welcome age. So rather than give you my top albums for 2007, since I don't think there is a single album that is outstanding from start to finish this year, I will give you my favorite playlists. There are certainly some repeated offenders who had more than one great track, but rather than suggest that you waste $9.99 or $11.99 for albums where you only get about $4.96 worth of good music, here are the best playlists for the year. And why split hairs with any kind of order. All these tracks are great in no particular order.

2007 was handsdown the year of rockin' ladies, thus my first playlist is "Rawkin' Ladies":

1. Brandi Carlile: "The Story," "Turpentine"
2. Laura Veirs: "Wandering Kind"
3. Amy Winehouse: "Rehab," "You Know I'm No Good"
4. Lilly Allen: "Smile"
5. Rilo Kiley: "Silver Lining"
6. The Puppini Sisters: "Mr. Sandman"
7. The Detroit Cobras: "On a Monday"
8. The Pipettes: "Your Kisses are Wasted on Me"
9. Au Revoir Simone: "Sad Song"
10. Bettye LaVette: "The High Road"
11. Feist: "1234," "My Moon My Man"
12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Down Boy," "Rockers to Swallow"
13. KT Tunstall: "Hold On"
14. M.I.A.: "Paper Planes," "Mango Pickle Down River"
15. Mala Rodriguez: "Nanai"
16. Keren Ann: "Lay Your Head Down," "Jardin d'hiver"
17. The Long Blondes: "Once and Never Again," "Fulwood Babylon"

"Rock Not in English" Playlist
1. Manu Chao: "Me Llaman Calle," "A Cosa"
2. Café Tacvba: "Volver a Comenzar"
3. Dani Umpi: "Atracción"
4. Federico Aubele: "En El Desierto (Live at Stubb's)"
5. Pacha Massive: "Get It On"
6. Bonde do Role: "James Bonde," "Bondallica"
7. Mexican Institute of Sound: "Escribeme Pronto"

"Late Night Blues" Playlist
1. Alamo Race Track: "Black Cat John Brown"
2. Jens Lekman: "Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo," "The Opposite of Hallelujah"
3. Castanets: "This is the Early Game"
4. The National: "Brainy," "Squalor Victoria," "Apartment Story" and "Blank Slate"
5. The Mary Onettes: "Explosions"
6. The Clientele: "Bookshop Casanova"
7. Caribou: "Melody Day"

"Sweet Twang" Playlist
1. The Avett Brothers: "Paranoia in B Major"
2. The Bees: "Love in Harbour"
3. Castanets: "Westbound, Blue"
4. Josh Ritter: "Next to the Last Romantic"
5. Nyles Lannon: "Hesitation"
6. Utah Carol: "Ruby"

"The Wannabes" Playlist
1. Spoon: "The Underdog" (Billy Joel)
2. Mika: "Grace Kelly," "Relax, Take It Easy" (Freddy Mercury/Queen)
3. Okkervil River: "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe," "Unless It's Kicks" (Bruce Springsteen)
4. Arcade Fire: "Keep the Car Running," "Intervention" (Bruce Springsteen)

"2007 Miscellaneous Playlist from Hell"
1. Tiny Masters of Today: "Bushy"
2. Q-Tip: "Work It Out"
3. Against Me: "Stop!"
4. Born Again Floozies: "7 Deadly Sinners"
5. The Teeth: "Ball of the Dead Rat"
6. Devendra Banhart: "Tonada Yanomaminista"
7. Kaiser Chiefs: "Ruby"
8. Public Enemy: "Harder Than You Think," "Can You Hear Me Now"
9. Liars: "Houseclouds," "Plaster Casts of Everything"
10. MKC: "In Da Club-Historia Nuestra" (Remix)
11. Architecture in Helsinki: "Heart it Races"
12. White Stripes: "Icky Thump"
13. Travis: "Selfish Jean"
14. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: "Gone Gone Gone"
15. Paul McCartney: "Dance Tonight"
16. Kenna: "Say Goodbye to Love"
17. The Rosebuds: "Get Up Get Out"
18. Portugal the Man: "The Bottom"
19. The Cinematics: "A Strange Education"
20. Shout Out Louds: "Normandie"
21. Vampire Weekend: "Mansard Roof"
22. Van Hunt: "Turn My TV On"
23. Sean Kingston: "Beautiful Girls"
24. Beirut: "Guyamas Sonora"

And finally my favorite end-of-the-year list that is not mine: Bill Maher's "Dickheads of the Year" in Rolling Stone.

I did break my own rule and provided my top ten world music albums to Global Rhythm.

Brian Wilson: Another 'Beautiful Mind'

The first time I really listened to "Pet Sounds" (after watching the movie "Almost Famous," you know when the older sister gives her very young music journalist brother a stack of albums that will "set [him] free," among them "Pet Sounds"), I didn't get it. I listened again--nada. And then one day while driving, it hit me. Maybe the concept of what I thought the Beach Boys were--a blond boy band that made terrific teeny-bopper beach surfer pop music--overshadowed the fact that some of their music could be so ethereal and complex. More importantly, it overshadowed the fact that behind such brightly sunburnt, aloe-scented music was a tormented, mad genius.

Now I understand, and as a music omnivore, I stand 100 percent behind the argument that it is one of the best American albums of all time, even though we, in America, were too dumb to realize it then. Leave it to the Brits to tell us what great music is. "God Only Knows," for example made it to #39 here, while in England it was a top five hit. Remarkably, the Beach Boys even beat out the Beatles in NME's end-of-the-year poll as Britain's "most popular vocal group" of 1966, according to the "Pet Sounds" liner notes.

By Wilson's admission, "Pet Sounds'" design was "to compete with the Beatles" and trump the Fab Four's 1965 masterpiece "Rubber Soul." By Paul McCartney's admission, "God Only Knows" is one of the greatest songs ever written and "Pet Sounds" is "a total classic record that is unbeatable in many ways." Beatles producer George Martin went as far as saying that "without 'Pet Sounds,' 'Sgt. Pepper' wouldn't have
happened... it was an attempt to equal 'Pet Sounds.'"

Today, "Pet Sounds" is a classic by most standards and Brian Wilson is a bona fide and recently crowned genius--he was one of the five recipients of the Kennedy Center Honor medal this past Sunday, Dec. 2.

Washington Post pop music journalist J. Freedom du Lac, wrote a revelatory piece on Wilson. Du Lac's piece, which reads like Sylvia Nasar's excellent biography "A Beautiful Mind," about Nobel Prize Honoree John Forbes Nash, Jr and his bout with paranoid schizophrenia and the woman who stood by him until his abatement and beyond, rectifies any false sense of hope that the dark demons that have haunted Wilson since his drug-induced melt down in 1965 are gone. Du Lac begins: "Brian Wilson still hears voices."

This was news to my wife and I, who witnessed one of the most spectacular concerts we've ever seen, when a bright-eyed, lucid and beaming Wilson performed at the Warner Theatre here in D.C. in 2006. We saw the kind of Wilson most would expect to see as the voice and brains behind the happy-go-lucky Beach Boys music. The distant, distressed Wilson was nearly absent. He was giddy and jubilant. Though at times his stage presence seemed slightly uneasy, it was in the way a kindergartner might be before performing on parents' night: nervously smiling, coquettishly blushing, unsure where to look.

The concert began with an almost informal, around-the-beach bonfire acoustic jam session where they sang "Surfer Girl," among other songs. After a set, heavy with hits and a few obscure gems, and then a short intermission, Wilson and his band,
who were joined by original Beach Boy Al Jardine , played "Pet Sounds" in its entirety. For the encore, the played their faster and most well-known hits like "Good Vibrations" and "Surfin' U.S.A." We could not believe what we had witnessed and more importantly we could not think of a single Beach Boys song that they didn't play!

In du Lac's article, Wilson tells him: "Things were rough for me from about 2002 to 2006... Rough enough that I should have been in a mental institution under heavy sedation." So, when we saw him in 2006, was Wilson--as du Lac writes--being "tormented by hecklers no one else can hear?" God only knows.

As in "A Beautiful Mind," Du Lac's piece is as much, if not more, about Wilson, as it is about his emotional and psychological fortress: his wife Melinda. As du Lac acknowledges, his piece has a "behind-every-mad-genius-there-is-a-woman" sub theme to it. Wilson unabashedly admits that his wife is the reason behind his resurgence.
And by resurgence, I mean that Wilson finally completed his follow-up to "Pet Sounds," "Smile," in 2004 (nearly 40 years after shelving it) and he recently released a single on his Web site called, "Midnight's Another Day," from his forthcoming work,"That Lucky Old Sun (A Narrative)."

Just one more great moment in the article, before I let you go read it: Wilson tells du Lac: "['Good Vibrations'] is a little bit flat in the choruses... I wish I'd taken more time and done it a little better." What-huh-what!?