Five Years of Best-of Lists
Way back when, I used to subscribe to Rolling Stone. I remember when The Who released their album It’s Hard; the magazine fawned all over it, giving the disc five stars. I’m a Who fanatic, but I’m here to tell you: It’s Hard was not a five-star effort.
I thought about that recently, as I was compiling my best-of-year lists for this blogzine (Those lists of reissues, new albums, music-related books and DVDs will run next week). In the immediacy of discovering music, sometimes we (and by we I of course mean I) am prone to a wee bit of hyperbole. One tries to guard against it, but sometimes the excitement causes excessive praise of the sort that time eventually proves unwarranted.
And with that reality in mind, I decided to take a look back. I’ve been running this blog for five and a half years now, and I’ve put together end-of-year lists for each of the previous five years. And so I wondered: how would those choices hold up? Today – some two, three, four and five years on – did I still think those albums held up? Did the stand the test of time for me? Do I still listen to them?
For the most part, yes. I’ve published more than 1450 reviews, interviews and essays in this space, and most of what I initially loved, I still enjoy immensely. Here are some of my favorites:
The Twilight Hours – Stereo Night. A couple of the guys from Trip Shakespeare made an unassuming yet wonderful (if little-known) album that is sure to please fans of their old band (as well as closely-related Semisonic). I’ll be interviewing one of them very soon in connection with some Trip Shakespeare reissues from Omnivore Recordings. This disc is well worth seeking out.
Pugwash – Giddy. Another stellar band that doesn’t get their due, Thomas Walsh‘s group from Ireland makes timeless pop. Omnivore (them again!) recently released a compilation in hopes of breaking the band Stateside; I’ll have a feature/interview on them soon. This 2009 album was Andy (XTC) Partridge‘s Ape label’s attempt to get the band some well-deserved notice.
The Orange Peels – 2020. This album from the flagship group on Allen Clapp‘s Mystery Lawn Music remains a favorite. I like everything they’ve done before and since, but 2020 is, for me, the finest effort to date from this pop group.
Nick Curran – Reform School Girl. This one makes me sad: not long after its release, Curran was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away in 2012, far too young at 35. Reform School Girl is a barbed-wire mix of influences from Jerry Lee Lewis to The Sonics to The Shangri-Las to The Misfits. Easily one of the rockingest albums in my entire (vast) music collection. A stone classic.
Spock’s Beard – X. For me, this album is the high-water mark of the California progressive outfit’s career. With their original lead vocalist gone, they pressed their drummer into service as lead singer, and he fit the role perfectly (If that reminds you of the Genesis story, well, there you go). He’s since moved on, and while the band continues, they’ve not quite hit the heights of X since.
DC Fontana – La Contessa. This group combines a sort of British take on soul jazz with a rock sensibility, reminding me a lot of Brian Auger’s Trinity with Julie Driscoll. The vocalist with the Driscoll-esque pipes and demeanor has since parted ways with the band (is this a recurring theme in today’s roundup of albums?) but some fantastic, high- energy, sexy music remains.
Dennis Coffey – Dennis Coffey. After giving birth to some of the funkiest guitar work on record in the 70s (check “Scorpio”), Coffey faded from prominence. He remained busy behind the scenes, and came roaring back with this album, one on which a bunch of guests actually make the record even better. Nothing new on record from him since, but then this would be nigh on impossible to top.
The Penguin Party – Sex Furniture Warehouse. Droll English humor applied to the concept of life as a middle aged man: that’s a winning formula in the hands of this outfit. On a par with the best work of Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, and even Ray Davies.
The Poster Boy – Melody. From Budapest, Hungary (no, really) comes a debut that is both reminiscent of and a near-equal in quality to the debut album from Crowded House. They have since altered their musical approach a bit, but this disc is pure pop of the highest order.
The Explorers Club – Grand Hotel. Uncannily like The Beach Boys at their peak, with shades of early 70s AM pop deftly mixed in. At the time of this release, the group was based in Charleston SC, and included several members. Leader Jason Brewer disbanded the group and relocated to Nashville. He eventually reactivated the group in a smaller configuration, and the long-delayed followup to Grand Hotel will (reportedly) see release in 2015. When it does, I’ll let you know; I stay in touch with Brewer because I know he’ll create something worth hearing.
The dB’s – Falling Off the Sky. After years of inactivity (though its members stayed busy), The dB’s roared back with what – for me – is the finest album of their career. Falling Off the Sky is adult pop, and I mean that in the very best sense of the word. Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey are some of the finest lyricists working in music today.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories). The third solo album from the staggeringly active Wilson, this album reveals new charms on each successive listen. Here Wilson pays homage to his 70s progressive rock heroes, but he does so by crafting wholly original music. His follow-up is due in early 2015.
E. Normus Trio – Love and Barbiturates. Is it post-rock? Is it avant-jazz? I can’t answer that, but I can tell you it’s fascinating. I’ve since gotten to know the guitarist in the group (as it happens, they’re based in Asheville) and I’ve even got the the chance to play music with him (but not this kind!). Worth seeking out for the adventurous.
Yuck – Glow and Behold. Janglepop meets shoegaze, and the results are excellent. They’re pretty ace live onstage, too, though some of the nuance of the studio is inevitably lost.
Duane Allman – Skydog. This one is staggering in its scope: six discs documenting the all-too-brief musical career of the legendary guitarist. Lots of goodies are buried within this set, including one track by a virtually unknown singer/songwriter named Bobby Lance. More on Lance in 2015.
Watch for my Best of 2014 lists, coming to this space presently.
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