Friday, December 30, 2005

Special, Grand-tabulous, Year-End Extended Edition 

Will's Top 10 Albums of 2005

10. Decemberists: Picaresque

Another solid release from this Northwestern band. One of the highlights is "The Mariner's Revenge", a good old-fashioned sing-along.

9. Coldplay: X&Y

Very consistent groove on this album. This is an example of when commercial actually works.

8. Stephen Stills: Man Alive!

Sad, but even the site I'm linking to hasn't rated this album. It's no surprise that Stills wouldn't get a major label release with all sorts of press, but this album deserved it. Leagues better than anything Nash or Crosby have put out in years, it is the most diverse album released by anyone this year. The production values could be stronger, but the songs bring it up.

7. David Gray: Life in Slow Motion

The year's sleeper pick. He's really fallen off the radar. His music seems to be more trancey than ever, which must have turned people off. Count me as turned up.

6. Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have it So Much Better

I guess the critical complaint on this album is it's not quite as good as their debut. Horseshit. The lyrics of the lead-off song, "The Fallen", are the best they've ever written.

5. The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday

You know what this album is? It's a great "preparation" album. You play this while cleaning or getting ready to move. It's not a morning album. It's a mid-evening album. Too loud for a late-evening album. But it fits right in there. The lyrics are brilliant. The playing is terrific. But, yeah, it takes a while to get used to Craig Finn's speak-singing (which, no, doesn't measure up to John McCrea's voice or wit). This is like great spoken word, except with great rock background music.

4. Nada Surf: The Weight is a Gift

Another album unfortunately ripped for being not quite as strong as its predecessor, The Weight is a Gift is a gift itself. Nada Surf have changed so much -- they've mellowed, but they haven't gone Clapton on us. The music is still as exciting as ever. As much as this album was touted for being just vanilla, I can't stop playing it.

3. Neil Young: Prairie Wind

I can't figure out why Neil is so much more willing to hand-hold produce his acoustic albums, while he one-takes all his recent rock albums. Whatever the reason, it worked to great effect here. Ever since Silver and Gold, Neil's writing has taken an interesting turn. Not always. He's developed a maudlin tone (see the song, "The Great Divide", for an example). But here, the writing is consistent and the instrumentation lush. Sometimes I'd like to see Neil write a solid two-minute song rather than the many five- or six-minute songs he's stretched to recently, but alas. It's a strong work. "He Was the King" alone is worth the price of admission.

2. Sleater-Kinney: The Woods

The rag that calls itself our newspaper here in Milwaukee just had an article about how bad of a year it was for women rockers. The writer had obviously not picked up Sleater-Kinney's latest, because with The Woods, one doesn't need any other female rock album. It's just brilliant, angry -- but always interesting -- rock from start to finish. Corin Tucker's got the best voice on the planet, and Janet Weiss hits the drums harder than Alex Van Halen.

1. Eels: Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

The Eels created something special here. This has to be the best double album since Mellon Collie. That's saying quite a lot, especially since it wasn't even the year's most hyped double album. The Foo Fighter's In Your Honor is solid. But it's a solid collection of songs that could have gone on any album. The Eels created a story. But they crafted it to leave enough space for the listener to mold his or her own plot. I don't really prefer to skip to the "better" songs on this album. It's best heard as a cohesive unit. There's a lot of darkness to this, even though it is undeniably pop music. But as the album progresses, there is a sense of redemption and potential that sticks.

And Furthermore:

The album that fell off the radar fastest -- Weezer: Make Believe

I've listened to it a lot, and it's not a bad record. But it just doesn't hold up next to any of their other albums. What's worse is the knowledge that Rivers Cuomo (supposedly) has "hundreds" of songs in the can that could go on any album. Even if that statement is overblown, it's hard to listen to Make Believe and wonder why so many of its songs made the record and not some of the others he has held over. It's like a B-sides album, but with 2 A-side songs added on.

Best opening-album song -- Sleater-Kinney: "The Fox"

No question. According to my iTunes, I've listened to this song 39 times so far. Most of those times were probably coming home from work, when the roar of anger and adrenaline of this song mixed so well with my newly reacquired freedom. Warning: if you've never heard this band, and then go listen to this song based on my recommendation, be prepared. The first listen, you'll be thinking, "What the hell is this?! What is she screaming about?" Give it a couple listens. Then turn it up. Then play drums to it.

Best Album I Purchased This Year:

Yes, there was an album I bought that I liked better than any of the top ten listed above, but it was released in 2003. Ugly Casanova's Sharpen Your Teeth is quite simply the best concept album I've ever heard (sorry, Beatles and Floyd fans). The first line of this album is one of the best lyrics I've ever heard. All the songs -- even the three throwaways -- are brilliant. Everything is very understated while at the same time intricately layered. They do this dual singing on several songs, in which the voices circle each other. Amazing.

Even More Furthermore...

Best Popcorn Movie: Revenge of the Sith
I should know. I did see it four times in the theater . . .

Best Serious Movie: A History of Violence
How can you get better than Cronenberg? Somebody tell me how you can get a better movie out of anybody other than David Cronenberg.

Best Book: The Best Irish Short Stories of 2005
The forward to this book is correct: the Irish really do write the very best short fiction of anyone.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Clean Again 

• My hands are all tingly from an hour of drumming. Best feeling, ever.

• Finally got the fill right on song I've been playing for a month.

• I know all I've been posting about is my novel, and that that's really boring for people, but that's really about all I've been thinking about since progress is just brimming lately. I probably won't make my end-of-year deadline, but at least it's moving. I will probably not run another PR race again -- a sad thought. But it's a PR kind of feeling when you've finished writing and look back at the work and think it may be some of your best. Not that the whole book is that way -- far from it. In running terms, this book is a spotty season -- stronger beginning than expected; rather lackluster middle; fast finish.

• I can never find the right oriental rug. It's like finding a wife. More about luck than effort.

• I've seen some of the year-end best-of lists for albums, and they are full of dredge crap.

• I've been running at night, after work. Just me and the off-shift bus drivers. Solitary and cold. Perfect running.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I just remembered something . . . 

A while ago I submitted this poem to a stupid anthology which supposedly published it in some monster volume of crap poetry . . . and I was supposed to get a copy . . . . like three years ago. Bastards! I paid for that! Fucking poetry anthologies. The only reason I submitted it was it was the only good poem I wrote.

On an unrelated note -- FU, 961-JUK, the license plate of the car in front of me who kept cutting me off tonight. You thought you were such hot shit until my wife phoned the county PO-lice and informed them you were off your ass drunk. Your welcome for the red and blue blinking lights! Meeeeeeeeeerry Christmas!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Even Jonny Lang Gets Cold on a Cold, Cold Day 

My current book is looking like it will be 150 pages longer than expected. It's coming along. It's so parsed together, but whenever I look back at what I've done . . . I like it. It needs some work. Maybe I'll edit it later next year. Maybe not. But it is draining. Lot of emotion, violence, sex, and spirituality in this book. Most of all it's failure. A real downer of a book, althouth I think it's mostly funny . . . until the end. I've got to finish this thing. Although I can't say I care to -- looking ahead, I've got a couple projects lined up for next year, but they don't compare to this. Nothing has this sort of bereft anger to it. Nothing really makes the anti-statement this book makes.

The people on the cabinet door are looking at me again. It's time to go.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Complimentary Porn 

It's a difficult question -- just how should I take it when I hear that as my wife walks my son and dog down the street one day, a guy driving by lowers his window and shouts out: "MILF!"

Is this a good thing? Someone else considers my wife to be very good looking and eligible to take to bed, despite her very motherly role?

Or is it a bad thing? That some idiot, with nothing to utter from a moving vehicle other than porn terminology, covets my wife.

To be honored and despise. I honestly don't know.

One doesn't get wiser as he ages: he gets more confused.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Regular Favorite Note 

Between-song banter is usually pedantic, boring, cliched, and a waste of everyone's time. With that stated, I have located the greatest line of between-song banter in the history of live rock music.

Picture it: it's 1969 at the Big Sur Folk Festival. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are finishing up their set. It was the most anticipated set of the day, and it's been a solid one. They just finished "Wooden Ships" on a powerful, if harried note. And now . . . . they pause.

Back then, the equipment wasn't as good as it is today, and they were more nervous -- especially Neil. So they tuned up for minutes at a time between songs. At this point, it's announced that the last song of the day will be Neil's "Down By the River". There is an audience cheer; then it quiets. You can hear Stills and Young tuning up.

Crosby and Nash start bantering. They're both obviously stoned out of their skulls, and just about 11 out of every 12 words they say are hippy nonsense. Stills says something praising Joan Baez. Crosby seconds it, half-heartedly. The crowd applauds. They tune up some more. It's getting long. Stills, sounding nervous, explains that it's the salt air that corrodes the strings, getting them out of tune. He nervously laughs. Neil's been quiet the whole time. Nash, being the idiot he is, announces to the crowd: "This is a boogieing song, so you can all just b-"

Neil cuts him off and says to the crowd in a loud voice: "You can all just cheer when your regular favorite note shows up."

And that's it. Right there. That's what rock and roll is. Simple as that.

Nash laughs nervously, like he didn't understand it. The crowd laughs too. It's too simple for them. A few seconds later, Neil starts playing that D-chord, leading them into a raging, epic, 15-minute version of the song. And sure enough, everyone's regular, favorite note showed up.

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