Favorite album of 2006

By the time I first saw Band of Horses this year in March, I only barely recognized their name and had little to no clue if going to that show, a last-minute decision, would even be worth it. Three live shows, a digital album and vinyl purchase later, Everything All the Time (Sub Pop) was pretty much a shoo-in as my favorite album this year.

I’m not sure I’d put it on the same pedestal as my pick from last year (The National’s Alligator), but Band of Horses bring something so needed amid the disaffected and mopey masses of indie rock: a genuine affability. Their music is as approachable as the guys are likable. A live show only supports the point. Frontman Ben Bridwell’s dude-man personality is charming and a welcome change from performers who take themselves too seriously.

Then there’s the small matter of the album, which seems an honest reflection of the group’s engaging attitude. Put simply, these are songs that are easy to like. They are not pretentious nor do they try too hard. In June, I wrote for Mars Needs Guitars that The Great Salt Lake had “a bit of grandeur in the sound.” Really, the same could be said about the entire album. Comparisons to My Morning Jacket and the Shins make sense but shouldn’t be taken too literally. Band of Horses strikes a balance between the Shins’ fragile guitar tip-toeing and MMJ’s cumbersome jamming.

When I’m sure The Funeral or The Great Salt Lake are the album’s high points, Monsters makes me rethink it all. These are big, sprawling songs, but they never threaten to burden the album with an overwrought sense of self-importance.

It’s very possible, and I’m no musician, that Everything All the Time is not a marvel of technical musicianship. But sincerity is the great equalizer. How does an album make you feel? Warm and welcome or distant and indifferent? I can’t imagine feeling more invited and comfortable than I do when I listen to this album.

Ten more albums I also really enjoyed (in no particular order):

Rob Crow: I Hate You, Rob Crow

So, yeah, there’s the title to that song, the new single from Rob Crow’s solo album Living Well, due out Jan. 23 on Temporary Residence. It’s either a healthy dose of sarcasm or some serious self-reflection by Crow, frontman of Pinback and member of other assorted side projects (including the unfortunately named Goblin Cock).

Living Well is Crow’s ode to his family and the birth of his first child, his musical equivalent of a little couch time. Even if the lead single is ironically self-referential, I Hate You, Rob Crow is brilliant in its efficiency. At two minutes and nine seconds, I Hate You concentrates Crow’s knack for a sing-songy vocal hook and instant impact. And this is the “single version.” The album version apparently is 1:13.

Rob Crow | I Hate You, Rob Crow (single version) (mp4)

James Brown: Handful of Soul

As previously mentioned, James Brown made eight albums for Smash Records, five of which were instrumental. Handful of Soul, released in 1966, was the fourth (via). The album features covers and originals.One of the covers is a pretty interesting take on When a Man Loves a Woman.

Even if you’ve tired of the song (thanks, Michael Bolton), Brown puts a great twist on it. Female backing singers hold down the familiar chorus, but Brown’s organ takes the place of a lead singer, almost as if he’s doing a call and response between the backing vocals and the organ.

And if my elementary research is correct, Percy Sledge came out with the song in 1966, which means Brown’s cover likely was one of the first.

James Brown (at the organ) | When a Man Loves a Woman

Also, thanks to Covert Curiosity for pointing me in the direction of this Detroit News remembrance of James Brown, which includes this great tidbit:

“There was a reason Brown’s band was so tight: Brown was known as one of the strictest bandleaders ever. He didn’t wait until the end of a show to dock someone’s pay if their shoes weren’t shined or if they played something he didn’t like.

“[Allan] Slutsky, who worked on ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown’ with Bootsy Collins, who was a bass player for Brown, says if a trumpet player hit a bad note, Brown would dance over to the musician and, with his back to the audience, flash the fingers of both hands at the player. ‘That meant he was fining the guy $10,’ he said.”

James Brown: The Payback

I can’t recall the year, but if memory serves, it was the third bout between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe. Bowe won the first, Holyfield the second. I’m watching the introductions, filled with the usual pomp of the sport, when Bowe emerges from the curtains and walks out to James Brown’s The Payback. Whoa. I really didn’t have a rooting interest in either boxer, but I can remember thinking that had to be one of the coolest (and most appropriate) song selections for the situation.

The title says it all: a down and dirty vow of revenge and payback. Released on the LP by the same name in 1973, The Payback feels more like Brown is preaching than singing. He talk-sings in fragmented bits in between the rhythmic guitar strumming and funky bass. And he employs the call-and-response tactic, name-checking trombonist Fred Wesley for emphasis: “Hit ‘em Fred, hit ‘em!”

The lyrical freedom Brown gives himself in the song lends to its greatness: it’s not seven minutes of structured verse-chorus-verse boredom, but a tirade of one pissed-off dude. I’d hate to be the guy who inspired this anger.

The equally testy wah-wah guitar and daunting bassline make an obvious foundation for sampling, which EPMD did extensively, though the use of it by En Vogue and L.L. Cool J (mp3s below) probably gave it more commercial appeal.

James Brown | The Payback

As sampled by …

L.L. Cool J | The Boomin’ System
En Vogue | My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)

UPDATE: Oliver at Soul Sides has started to share his thoughts – and music – of James Brown.

James Brown plays James Brown

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In the wake of James Brown’s death, I’ve got some good stuff to share from his catalog this week. I won’t pretend to know everything about his career, but I will say that I started collecting his music as a result of his pervasive influence on hip-hop; he undoubtedly is one of the most sampled artists in hip-hop. I always thought that if I had the chance to see one artist live, it would be James Brown in his prime. And if I could recommend one album, it would have to be Revolution of the Mind, a mind-blowing live set that probably offers only a hint of what it was like to see him in concert.

As for my collection, I have a bunch of 45s I’ve collected here and there. The two full-length LPs I own are from Smash Records (a subsidiary of Mercury), where, from what information I can gather, Brown produced eight LPs, five of which were instrumental (via) with Brown playing the organ.

James Brown Plays James Brown: Today & Yesterday was his second instrumental album for Smash. It includes, as the title suggests, Brown playing instrumental versions of his own tunes. The recordings are as delightfully funky as they are corny, at least if you’re familiar with the original versions of the songs. The organ, of course, becomes the spotlight, and it’s got a thick sound but still plays nicely off the big band horns. On Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (Parts I and II below), the horns are dominating presence, though (especially on Part II), Brown keeps a rhythmic, almost stuttering beat on the organ.

(The mp3s were converted from vinyl; pop and crackle included at no additional charge.)

James Brown | Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (Part I)
James Brown | Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (Part II)

Kurtis Blow: Christmas Rappin’

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I do believe this is becoming a bit of a yearly tradition. Also be sure to check out Soul Sides for A Cold Chillin’ Christmas, with Big Daddy Kane, Roxanne Shante and MC Shan.

My copy of Christmas Rappin’ comes from a 45 put out by Mercury. I think I found it on a record dig in Tucson.

Happy holidays and thanks for reading throughout the year. And update those bookmarks: www.somuchsilence.com.

Kurtis Blow | Christmas Rappin’

New design

(PLEASE UPDATE BOOKMARKS: www.somuchsilence.com. The old blogspot address still will redirect you.)

I’m in the process of a redesign, as you can see if you’re here. There’s some other glitches and such I need to work out. So if you’re here, welcome. Bear with me through some technical stuff.

In the meantime, you can go back to somuchsilence.blogspot.com while I figure out how to import the remainder of the posts. Thanks!

A redirect has been set up at the blogspot site, so you’ll land back here. I had about 18 posts hanging from the blogspot address that I needed to move over. I did that manually, so I’ve lost some comments, which bothers me.

Nevertheless, here’s the site, put together by Absolute Design and that new excellent banner was designed by my boy Dusty.

Again, I’ll have small things here and there to tweak. Please let me know if you stumble on something that needs fixing and/or improving. Frankly, this whole WordPress thing scares me a little.

Thanks again.

Favorite song of 2006

By about August, I had begun formulating year-end lists in my head. I was mentally shuffling songs and albums up and down and back and forth when it finally hit me earlier this month: Who cares? The overwhelming volume of year-end lists (Largehearted Boy is keeping track: A-M and N-Z) has watered down the process, although I still kept tabs on lists from bloggers and writers I especially admire (Chromewaves, Gorilla vs. Bear, Marathonpacks, Bows + Arrows, for starters).

There is nothing wrong with lists (I made two last year). At best they are tangible reminders of a year that was; at worst they are masturbatory exercises of self-importance. They do open up the author to all sorts of criticism (“What? No, TV on the Radio?!?”), although that’s half the fun, I suppose.

For me, the difference between, say, my 13th and sixth favorite albums is probably negligible and hard to quantify. So instead, I’ve whittled it down to one song and one album that moved me or commanded a majority of my attention.

Favorite song of 2006:
Elvis Perkins, While You Were Sleeping
(From Ash Wednesday, self-released in 2006 and due out on XL in February 2007.)

In the newspaper business (of which I’m a part), you’re taught that the lead to a story is vital – it will determine if someone continues to read a story. It’s a good analogy for records, though, in the case of While You Were Sleeping, track No. 1 on Ash Wednesday, I kept doubling back to listen on repeat.

No doubt, the rest of the album is golden. But While You Were Sleeping is something else: insightful, pretty, sad, plaintive. From the first note, when an acoustic guitar gently dives into what NPR calls “midnight ruminations of an insomniac,” the song slowly builds layer upon layer of instrumentation – acoustic guitar gives way to bass gives way to drum beat gives way to horns.

But Perkins’ writing – the imagery – carries the song. He’s singing to someone long asleep, a winding narrative of what is passing this person by in the stillness of slumber: “While you were sleeping, the time changed / all of your things were rearranged.” It’s a simple yet sort of eerie idea: that the world, time, people don’t stop just because you do.

Favorite line:
“While you were sleeping the money died /
machines were harmless /
and the Earth sighed.”

Elvis Perkins | While You Were Sleeping

I also really liked these:
Band of Horses, The Great Salt Lake.
Josh Ritter, Girl in the War.
The Walkmen, All Hands and the Cook.
The Long Winters, Hindsight.
The Roots (feat. Peedi Peedi and Bunny Sigler), Long Time.

Related:
Favorite songs of 2005.
Favorite albums of 2005.

Youth Group: Sorry

In my many trips to record stores last year, my wife kept telling me to look for Youth Group for her. Youth Group this, Youth Group that. Skeleton Jar. Blah blah. Eventually we got our hands on a copy, and, as it turns out, I was pretty happy Annie kept after me about it.

It wasn’t so much that Skeleton Jar was all that awe-inspiring, but it seemed the promise for something better was looming. And the Aussies may have found it on Casino Twilight Dogs, due out Jan. 23 on Epitaph/Anti. The label is working extra hard on this one, too; I’ve gotten two promo copies. Their persistence is worth it. Casino Twilight Dogs is just really … pleasant. I’m not even sure I’ve ever used that word to describe a record. The melodies are sneaky – not so catchy right off the bat but they linger and reel you in until they’ve won you over.

On Sorry, like most of the group’s tunes, the guitars are big and sweeping and enhanced by an attractive string arrangement. We shan’t forget the cover of Alphaville’s Forever Young. And, oh, singer Toby Martin uses the word “infinitesimally” in the song Catching & Killing. That’s gotta count for something, right?

Youth Group | Sorry