Month: December 2006

Top Songs of 2006, 5-1

Finishing up this year’s business. The five songs that when I think of 2006, I will think of most. Happy New Year to all.

5 – “Unemployable” – Pearl Jam. Yeah, I’m a fan. Sue me. A damn fine song regardless. Pearl Jam’s greatest hook ever? It might well be. This song summed up what most of their self-titled album was all about: getting to the point without any embellishment. Almost no guitar solo, quick, nearly non-existent choruses. A perfect little power pop gem with a conscious.

4 – “Crazy” – Gnarls Barkley. When your song is almost immediately covered by dozens of other artists, you know you’ve written something special.

3 – “The Crane Wife 3” – The Decembrists. Heartbreaking Japanese folktale put to music in a very Decembrist manner. That rolling bassline perfectly balances the somber mandolin/guitar lead.

2 – “Invitation” – The High Violets. 2006 was the year I discovered nu-gaze, the revival of the 1990s shoe-gaze sound. The High Violets are one of the better practitioners of the updated sound, and while this song gets away from pure nu-gaze a bit, it is the track that stuck out the most for me this year. Heavenly, ethereal, stunning, and magnificent, recalling the best work of Lush and the Cocteau Twins.

1 – “Star Witness” – Neko Case. Sometimes the first time you hear a song you know you’ll never be the same. This song didn’t change my life, but I knew, way back in March, that it would be tough to top this for the year’s best track. It stood the test of time and all comers. Each time I hear it, I think it should be used in some crime/noir film. A scene shot in a smoky, dark club. A hushed conversation at a corner table. In the background, a singer. The conversation comes to a pause, the music fades up, and then you hear that voice. The camera turns to Neko on stage, singing her heart out, and the scene is complete.

Top Songs Of 2006, 10-6

The countdown continues…

10 – “Steady As She Goes” – The Raconteurs. The lead single off of the much-hyped collaboration between Jack White and Brendan Benson. It hints at the dirty sound of the rest of the album, while maintaining an accessibility that makes it radio-friendly.

9 – “Stuck Between Stations” – The Hold Steady. You can’t have a great album without a great opening track. This song perfectly sets the tone for <em>Boys and Girls in America</em>. A straight-ahead, bar-room rocker loaded with great lines. “Crushing one another with colossal expectations…”

8 – “Worry About It Later” – The Futureheads. My Maximo Park of 2006, a Northern British band that delivered an album full of great songs.

7 – “Naive” – The Kooks. Speaking of British bands, this song soars the way all great summer songs should. Further proof that the corporate idiots who run radio in this country know nothing. This song should have been huge, HUGE I say.

6 – “Lazy Eye” – Silversun Pickups. There was a DJ on KLZR back in the day who described a certain brand of 90s alt-rock as “beautiful noise.” That description would be apt for this song, and not just because it sounds like it came straight out of 1995. Closely following their own model struck in 2005’s “Kissing Families,” SSPU created a brilliant piece of cathartic noise. The extended solos and screaming make me want to get in the car, put down the windows, drive way too fast, and scream away my own frustrations. Approximately 10% of the total damage I did to my ears this year came from this song.

 

Top 20 Songs of 2006, 11-20

I listened to a lot of music this year. I made lists. I pared those lists down to 20 songs. Below is installment #1 of the best of 2006, all in my humble opinion, of course. Your results may vary.

20 – “Handle With Care” – Jenny Lewis With the Watson Twins. This would be higher if it weren’t A) a cover (Traveling Wilburys) and B) an “all-star” track (Indie favs Ben Gibbard, Conner Oberst, and M. Ward all pitch-in on this track).
19 – “Talking in Code” – Margot and the Nuclear So &#038; Sos. Loaded with 1970s, AM radio overtones.
18 – “Puzzles Like You” – Mojave 3. One of many power-pop tracks that pleased me this year. My definition of power-pop: 3:20 songs that you wish lasted forever.
17 – “LDN” – Lilly Allen. Apparently this song was the serious shit in the UK last summer. It was popular in at least one house in central Indiana as well.
16 – “Answers and Questions” – Earlimart. A summer afternoon’s daydream, airy and inviting.
15 – “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” – Camera Obscura. Another song that evokes other times, this has one foot placed in the 60s, the other in the 80s.
14 – “Goodbye” – Asobi Seksu. Every time I hear this song, it reminds me of the Go-Gos, circa 1983. If I was 12 and spent every day this summer at the pool, this is a song I would want to hear again and again.
13 – “Girl That Speaks No Words” – The Infadels. The soundtrack for many of my drives between Indy and Bloomington last spring. Had I been pulled over while listening to this song and driving 85, it would have been worth it.
12 – “Pushover” – The Long Winters. We’ve all been pushovers at some point. This song almost makes those moments when pride gets thrown out the window seem worth it.
11 – “You Made It” – DJ Shadow featuring Chris James. A fantastic track from an unexpected combination.

 

Christmas

Happy continued holidays to all. It’s a dandy here in Indy. C. is sick, M. is teetering on the edge of a cold, I’ve got a full-blown cold, and S. is surely next. Then there are the sisters-in-law staying here, who will probably catch it before they head home. I’m going through massive amounts of kleenex and discovering the dumbed-down version of Sudafed just isn’t as good as the old, Meth-friendly kind. There were ten people in line at the pharmacy today, and I didn’t feel like waiting to get the real stuff. Good times!

Christmas was a fine day, especially for our girls. The big gift from the parents was a big dollhouse the two girls will eventually share. M. has been playing with it almost constantly and C., well, C. likes to roll up against it and slap it with her hands. We also deposited a large load of Play-Dough products on M., and she’s been enjoying that while driving us crazy as she carries it all over and we worry about it getting ground into the carpet. After early Christmas at our place, we headed to the in-laws, where our generation did our gift exchange and the girls got a few more presents. M. got a sit-and-spin, which these days play music and talk to you, along with a Leap Frog learning desk that is something she can grow into. Right now, all these gifts and a few others are spread around our living room, and when she’s awake, she goes from gift-to-gift like, well, like a kid the day after Christmas. Once things calm down a little, well disperse them through the house so that she can spend some quality time with them instead of bouncing from toy to toy. It is telling, though, that now as soon as we head to bed at night, when we talk about what she did that day, the first thing she says is “I played with toys!” She was a lot of fun, although a little hyper, on Christmas day. It was cool to see her getting into it, although full comprehension is still a couple years away from what other friends tell us. She got many talkings to at Christmas Eve Mass, when she refused to keep her voice down. But she wasn’t out-of-control by any means. C.’s reaction, obviously, was a little more muted. It’s safe to say she had no idea what was going on and thinks nothing of all the new toys she now has to play with. She was so cranky today that I don’t think it would matter if she understood or not.

Again, I hope all of you had Merry Christmases and the rest of your holidays go well.

Kids

Boy, this week is flying by, which is strange because I have almost nothing going on. A comprehensive house-cleaning regimen was formulated a week or so back, but I’ve only done a few things on it. Why get the house all sparkling when you’ve got kids who will just mess it up again before the guests arrive? Expect mad cleaning to occur Friday night, Saturday morning. Cookie baking, too. I’ve been reading a lot, which has been fun. Baring something crazy, I should get to, if not slightly beyond, 20 books for the year. My status as an elite reader should remain intact.

Below, a couple stories about the girls. Because they are tiny tots and their eyes are definitely aglow.

Last Thursday, I took the girls for an afternoon walk. I couldn’t write down everything M. said, but here’s a rough approximation of what words tumbled out of her mouth while she tagged along behind C. and I.

M.: Oooo, a stick! Hey, where all da doggies go? Daddy! A pine-cone! Another stick! It windy! Daddy, it windy?
Daddy: Yeah, it’s windy, come on.
M: Want more sticks, daddy? Here another. Ohhh, a school bus. Hi school bus! It close, daddy.
D: Yes, it’s close, come on, move it.
M: Where M. house? Where it go, daddy? Dat not M.’s house.
D: No, it’s not M.’s house. We’re taking a walk, it’s around the corner. Come on.
M: Hey Daddy! It slippery! (This is what she says anytime we come to a section of sidewalk that is angled towards the street. She stops and acts like it’s icy. I’m not sure where this came from.)
D: It’s not slippery, it’s ok. Come on.
M: Daddy, where Christmas go? (She asked this when we came to a house that has a bunch of Christmas lights, which were turned off, of course, during the day.)
D: They’re still there, they’re just not on right now. Keep walking.
M: Christmas go bye-bye?
D: Sure, Christmas went bye-bye. Come on.
M: Bye-bye Christmas! Oh, there’s a doggie. Hi doggie! Woof, woof!

You get the idea. Oh, and everything above happened in about a 20 foot section of our walk. And was pretty much repeated over the entire half hour we were walking. Meanwhile, C. just sat in her stroller and played with her toes.

This whole repetition of words thing is making S. and I crazy. I swear she said “pizza” 60 times a minute for a half hour this morning when she was playing with a puzzle that she thought looked like pizza. We’re really looking forward to having relatives in the house this weekend so they can listen to her and we can go sit in an unoccupied room and just enjoy the silence.

Speaking of C., she’s reached the great stage where everything mommy and daddy do is great. Anytime she catches our eyes, she smiles and laughs and tries to initiate contact. Thursday night, after M. had gone to bed, C. wasn’t quite ready, so I put her on the floor next to me with some toys while I watched The Office. She knocked her toys around for awhile, making herself laugh silly, then would intentionally roll into me, grab my shirt, stuff it into her mouth, and start laughing. I took this as a signal that she wanted to be tickled, which sent her into even more fits of laughter. Friday, she had a stretch where she laughed at almost everything for about six hours straight. She’s a funny kid. She’s getting up on her knees and rocking, doing a few army crawls, and making moves that seem like she’s close to crawling. Boy do they develop fast. Finally, she and M. are turning into terrific playmates. They get each other giggling and can’t stop. Last night, while I was fixing dinner, I heard laughter and looked in to see C. writhing uncontrollably in her exersaucer while M. tickled her toes. Good sounds, good times.

Weekend Summary

We must be living right. Tonight, at 6:30 PM, we took a walk with the kids to see the Christmas lights in our neighborhood. We all had jackets on, with the girls also wearing hats. Ten minutes into the walk, I felt like I needed to ditch the jacket. The sky looked like snow all day long, the only problem was the thermometer was pushing 70. There wasn’t even a chill in the air tonight; it felt like a nice April evening. I’m a big fan of the white Christmas, but you can beat spring-like weather for the holidays.

We had a sitter Saturday night, so we ended up having a big night on the town. We had plans to meet some friends for drinks at 9:30, so before dinner, we hit the mall and Target and knocked out most of the last few Christmas purchases we needed to make. Some nice Indian food to follow up our shopping, and then we hit the bar at 9:00. We grabbed a table, ordered our drinks, and sat back to watch the Dallas-Atlanta game until our friends arrived. Right at 9:30, the DJ cranked the music up. They had been playing random stuff at a reasonable volume since we arrived. Suddenly, S. and I couldn’t even hear each other talk, and we were seated right next to each other. We ended up with a group of about ten and conversations were truly brutal. We got at least four incorrect orders from our waitress because she couldn’t hear us. We all agreed that we’re old, and don’t have the ability to carry on conversations in a loud bar that we all used to have, but this was ridiculous. I was talking to my sister-in-law, and she asked if I had a cold. I said, “No, I just don’t go to bars anymore.” After ten minutes, I sounded like I used to sound around 3:00 AM after a night of drinking and yelling at people over the bar music. But we had fun, which is the only important thing.

Some other stuff:
I know he had a crappy day Sunday, but Vince Young is an outright phenomenon. I saw him a lot in college, and saw him do all kinds of crazy things when he was at Texas, so I figured eventually he’d turn into a solid NFL player. But what he’s done over the last two months just isn’t fair. How good is he going to be once he figures out the pro game and they put some more tools around him? He’s going to be everything Michael Vick was supposed to be, because he seems humble, willing to learn, and just a better person all around. I know the Texans passed on Vince and Reggie Bush because they argued you have to play defense to beat the Colts, but Vince is 1-1 and nearly went 2-0 against the Colts this year. For all their efforts, it seems as though the Texans have fallen behind the Titans in the battle to challenge for the AFC South title in recent years.

C. was baptized Sunday. It was a fine event, although a bit unusual. C.’s godparents were also baptizing their five-month-old son in the same service, so we had six people standing up together. Unlike M., who was lucky enough to get baptized in a regular mass, this time the kids had a separate ceremony with only family present. So that was good, but I think the priest rambled on a little since he wasn’t trying to squeeze the ceremony into a normal mass. He did quote Mick Jagger, though, which was cool. I’m not sure if he knew one of the parents (me) was a heathen and was trying to bridge our the gap between our beliefs, or he’s just cooler than I thought. I’ll leave it at that, because I don’t want to get my girls in trouble with the nuns before they even start Catholic school.

Less than a week until Christmas. We’ve been slowly stoking M.’s Christmas fires. She loves our tree, is really into our manger scene (she tells Baby Jesus to go to his room a lot. He must be a bad little savior), and likes looking at lights when we drive around. I’ve knocked two of my four Christmas movies out, and have a couple more on the DVR to review this week. Now, if we could just get a little snow. Thanks to that request, we’ll probably get a foot on the 23rd, when most of our out-of-town family will be flying or driving in. They can thank me later.

Notable Albums Of 2006

Since the explosion of the on-line music world in the late ’90s, I, like many, have moved away from being a consumer of entire albums towards collecting individual tracks by artists I enjoy. I’d rather buy through iTunes, or obtain via other means, the four or five best songs off of an album instead of dropping $16 to get those tracks plus seven or eight I don’t want. This year, though, I seemed to stockpile a few more albums than in recent years. My top 20 songs of 2006 list is coming either late this week or early next, but here, in no particular order, are some notable albums that were released this year.

Broken Boy Soldiers – The Raconteurs. This is a notable but also in some ways a disappointing album. From the moment I heard, back in mid-2005, that Jack White and Brendan Benson were working on an album together, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. When opening single “Steady As She Goes” leaked in February, I was pleased by what I heard. When the disk dropped in May, I was a little disappointed. And I think that’s because I expected too much. I expected the best rock and art sensibilities of White and the best pop craftsmanship of Benson to be present on each track. That hope ignored the most likely final product: those sensibilities would be evident, but the Detroit natives worked harder to forge a common and new sound. The result was unexpected, and perhaps because of that, a let down. But it’s a pretty solid album, full of 70s porn soundtrack overtones. Big, crunchy, and dirty. It could be the modern soundtrack for Detroit.

Putting the Days to Bed – The Long Winters. A fabulous album full of perfectly crafted power-pop masterpieces. It’s only failing may be that the band is in such a groove that the songs end up sounding the same after awhile. But in the age of shuffling, when a track from this album pops into your playlist, it shines.

You See Colours – Delays. This album will be lost behind many of the other British pop bands that ruled the American airwaves this year. That’s a shame because this is a far better album than many of those that got sucked into the ‘Grey’s Anatomy alterna-pop sampler’ genre.

The Information – Beck. It should say a lot that a Beck album makes my list. He’s always been a little too eclectic for my tastes. But this is a great album, full of equal parts edginess and power hooks. I now see why so many people are so into his music.
The Dust of Retreat – Margot and the Nuclear So &amp; So’s. The first Indy band to make a national splash since I moved here, the Margos released this stunning debut album in 2005 and had it picked up and rereleased by a larger label in March. They are often compared to the Arcade Fire because there are about 1000 people in the band. But their sound, at least on disk, is much more refined than the Arcade Fire’s, and their pop roots are much more evident as well. Each song tells a story beautifully, both lyrically and musically.

The Crane Wife – The Decembrists. When a cult band signs a major label contract, there is always concern among the fans who stick with them (as opposed to those who cry “Sell out!” and part ways). They worry that the money and pressure will ruin what made the band great in their indie days. Death Cab for Cutie faced that pressure in 2005, and delivered a decent album but one that also was noticeably weaker than their final indie release. The Decembrists were this year’s test case, and unlike Death Cab, they exceeded every expectation. Not only did they live up to the hype, they did so while releasing a quasi-concept album. Much of The Crane Wife is based on a Japanese fable of the same name. The original story is heartbreaking, as is opening track “The Crane Wife 3.” The rest of the album is pure Decembrists, at times rollicking, always literate and challenging, and never boring.

Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam. I’ve written before about the grace music critics give established groups. No mainstream critic will ever say a Rolling Stones release sucks. U2 has moved into that sphere. So it is predictable when each album is hailed as a return to the glory years. There was no hyperbole or dishonesty when critics labeled Pearl Jam’s self-titled released as a return to form. Easily their best album in a decade, the band escaped much of the aimlessness that dominated their last two releases. They rocked as they hadn’t rocked since Vs. The album featured their strongest opening track since Vitology in “Life Wasted.” Their best single since “Given to Fly” in “World Wide Suicide.” And perhaps their greatest hook ever (wait for my singles list for that one). When I reviewed this album in May, I said I liked it a lot, but time would tell if it was truly a great album. The fact I’m still listening to the strongest tracks from it each week should say volumes. This was a great album, proving that they can still do it when motivated and focused. They’ve been missed; hopefully they can keep their muse in sight.

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood – Neko Case. A year ago, I barely knew who Neko Case was. I knew she was part of indie supergroup The New Pornographers, a band that brought me great joy in 2005. And I knew she was a solo artist, but had not heard any of her work sans Porno friends. When this album was released in March, it blew me away. She has a voice that could launch 1000 armies. That could sing Greek heroes into jagged rocks. That can soothe away all that ails you. It’s not a modern rock and roll voice, but something plucked from the era of classic country and early rock, when generes were blurred and singers just sang. This is one of those albums you want to buy ten copies of and send to all your friends because they MUST hear it.

Boys and Girls in America – The Hold Steady. The voice of a generation. Craig Finn sings of what kids today face. Not the kids who grow up happy and comfortable and secure with where their futures are taking them. But rather the kids who slip through the cracks, who clutch to things like music and drugs and their circle of friends to try to find meaning in life and the power to get through each day. There’s a significant part of that message that I can’t relate to. It isn’t how I felt when I was 18, nor the kind of life I live today. Despite whether the songs speak to your life or not, you can’t deny the power and passion and honesty that the carry with them. An album that demands to be heard and placed aside Born to Run as one of the great summations of the lives of those on the fringe.

Rabbit Fur Coat – Jenny Lewis With the Watson Twins. Jenny Lewis and Neko Case are often compared to each other. They both have wonderful voices, are prolific as both solo artists, members of groups, and drop-ins to numerous other side projects, and both have strong Americana/Country elements in their music. I grew up being forced to listen to country music by relatives who lived out in the rural parts of the Midwest, so I always say that I don’t like country music. And that’s largely true. It just doesn’t connect with me, something that was reinforced in the 90s when I worked at a place that kept the radio on the intercom all day, and at least twice a week was a country day. And yet, music like the songs on this album, some of Neko’s songs, and classic stuff like Johnny Cash resonates with me. I’ve never dug deep to see what the difference is, although in the modern stuff I would imagine that it is the fact that the songs aren’t pure country, but rather country-influenced, with at least one foot firmly planted in the pop/rock world.
Anyway, this is another fantastic album full of wonderful singing and lovely instrumentation. Jenny’s lyrics aren’t as deep as Neko’s, but that also makes them a little more accessible where Neko’s tend to be a little more artsy and vague. Her voice is also a notch below Neko’s in quality, but she deploys it expertly, avoiding and strains that would show her tiny weaknesses. Oh, and the Watson Twins are not unattractive, which helps when watching their videos or live performances.

Late addition:
The Alarmist – Dear Leader. I just purchased this album last week, so I can’t break it down yet, but it won’t qualify for next year’s list, so I had to say something about it. The band is fronted by Aaron Perrino, former lead singer of one of my favorite bands of the early 00s, The Sheila Divine. These songs a bit more complex than the Sheila’s straight-ahead alt-rock. More art, more depth, but the rock is still there. It remains to be seen if I’ll dig this effort as much as I dug the Sheilas, but it is definitely promising.

Good Weekend

Many things happened this weekend. For those of you who missed it, I made a surprise (to some) visit back to KC for the annual Sinatra Party. I dusted off the suit, made some cursory efforts to get the liver in shape, and although I didn’t do nearly as much damage to the scotch supply as I have done in years past, I did enjoy my time in KC immensely. It was great to see all of you who were present to honor Frank. It is worth noting that in the one year that I missed the Sinatrafest, things have calmed down significantly. Two years ago, a few of us jokers were still pouring scotch down our gullets at 3:00 AM. Saturday, right around 10:30 there was a mass exodus. Seriously, roughly half the people at the party at the time fled within five minutes of each other. Smart money guessed that all those folks needed to relieve their sitters by 11:00. A core group of eight or so made it to 1:15ish, and then we gave up. I will say, though, I felt much better on Sunday than I did two years ago the day after the party.

For those who track my food intake during my travels, it was a pretty solid 32 hours or so. Gates for lunch on Saturday (more about that in a second), Minsky’s for dinner before the party officially got under-way, and Jack’s Stack for lunch Sunday. The only downer was the fact that for the second straight time, Gates on Paseo was out of burnt ends. How can that happen? It’s Kansas City’s signature barbecue specialty, and they’re out for at least two times, both if which happen to be days I’m there to order them. Oh well.

There was more to the weekend, though. Things got started with a bang Friday afternoon. I was about to go run some errands when I noticed the house was a little chilly. I bumped the heat up a degree or two to kick it on and….nothing happened. I bumped it up a few more. Still nothing. Finally, I pushed it up to 80 and still no sounds of burners firing up from the basement. I went down and checked what I know how to check. The power was on, the gas was working, the breaker hadn’t been tripped. I figured I better call someone since it was 3:15 on a Friday. They got out fairly quickly and found that the inductor motor, or something like that, had failed. Great. It had been 7 above the night before. Not a good time for the heat to be out. They said they had the part, but would have to have it sent up from the warehouse downtown. That took about two hours, they got back to work, and around 8:15 discovered the wrong part had been sent up. Terrific, no heat for the night and the girls were already in bed. So we piled some blankets on M. and hoped she’d sleep through. We put C. in our bed and rounded up more blankets and crawled under them. It didn’t get too bad; I was even hot under all the layers, and our house stayed above 50. We had a friend of a friend who lost her heat the night before and her house was below 40 the next morning. Still, it was pretty brisk when I got out of bed to go to the airport Saturday. Happily, the heat was fixed by the time I landed in KC that afternoon. Home ownership is grand.

Christmas For Toddlers

The 2006 tree went up last night. Looks pretty damn good if I say so myself. Pretty much like the last three trees we’ve had. Oh well, a sure sign the holidays are upon us.

We’ve been working with M. so that she understands what Christmas is really about. She surprised S. the other day with this conversation.

“Christmas is the baby Jesus’ birthday, M..”
“Oh! We get cupcakes and party hats and we sing?!?!”

In many ways, I think the girl has her priorities perfectly placed.

Wrapped up the school year without too much stress. My test Tuesday took about 15 minutes. Actually got to bed at midnight Tuesday, rather than the 3:00 AM of the previous night. Think everything went well, and I’m just awaiting word from my advisor to figure out what two classes to take in the spring to be done with the program.

Now, a month to chill with the family, clean the house, read some books, and watch some Christmas movies. Someone needs to have a party so I can really get into the spirit of the season.

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