Friday, December 30, 2005


Herman Düne "Not On Top" (Track & Field)

when i first heard belle & sebastian's "if you're feeling sinister" i wanted to play it for everyone i knew, and i did. in the car, on my college radio show, on mix tapes, in the painting studio, and everyone always loved it. i have a similar feeling about "not on top." my friend (and Saint) Thomas Hansen enthusiastically brought these guys to my attention in the spring while i was on tour w/ him playing banjo, and every set we played included at least one of their songs.

only since they've been compared to belle & sebastian by others, i'll try to make sense of that (although i've never committed much mental space to b&s). brothers david-ivar and andre do have fragile and shy-sounding tenor voices, with an accent you can't really place. both have written about a million songs, i think, for the band and for their separate solo projects. their lyrics don't always rhyme and come straight from the heart and are often about rather mundane subjects like ketchup stains, random encounters, living in greenpoint, love. . .

the instruments are played w/ amazing economy and creativity, and the singing is often done by two or more people (julie doiron and lisa li-lund both sound perfect on harmonies), and the whole thing is recorded in mono. thomas says it sounds best played through a guitar amp, and i would agree.

but the real kicker that cemented this band a place in my heart (and brought a tear to my eye the first time i saw it), three words that appear at the very end of the liner notes: REMEMBER STEVE LACY

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Thomas Mapfumo "Spirits to Bite Our Ears: The Singles Collection, 1977-1986" (DBK Works)

I woke up this morning to the sound of steady rain and a weak gray light at the window. The weathermap-in-motion courtesy of was a big green blur hovering over my little part of the world and not seeming to go anywhere.

The only way I could think of to drive away conditions like these was to put on this CD, which is obviously a collection of songs not recorded this year; forgive me. Even more than my choice for #5, this music sounds like what spring sunshine feels like. The multiple guitars (usually playing parts adapted from traditional mbira melodies) interlock in such an unspeakably delightful way, the drums bounce along in some interesting polyrhythms yet still swing and slay your dancing feet, Mapfumo's vocals lilt and fade in the mix, sounding both world-weary and wise. Most of the lyrics are about life in Zimbabwe, but "Nyamutamba Nemombe" is a dance in which people imitate the behavior of a provoked cow.

Still raining, though. . .

Friday, December 23, 2005


Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate "In the Heart of the Moon" (Nonesuch)

subtle and hypnotic duets mostly, rural folk themes that go around and around. you can hear that these guys are true friends, and the fun they are having just playing music together is completely infectious. but still they maintain a beautiful level of restraint and respect for one another.

listening to this makes me miss those monday afternoons a few years ago when jason and i would sit up at The Tubby Hook, right on the edge of the river, trying to catch a tan, drinking presidentes and watching the boats go by. the jukebox didn't have anything this good on it, of course, but if it had you can bet that i would still remember it's code number and would have always been asking the bartender to turn it up.

The Independent is correct in calling this “playing of almost supernatural invention.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Danger Doom "The Mouse and The Mask" (Epitaph)

ben and i agree, the best hip-hop record of the year, right here. the whole thing is just so much fun, w/ melodic samples and squiggly effects, rhymes that keep me smiling down the sidewalk or sometimes laughing out loud. there's a lot of guest spots from adult swim network characters, which if i was familiar w/ them, i'd probably get all the jokes and enjoy this even more. my favorite track right now is probably "crosshairs," built around a melancholy jazz/funk guitar loop, bouncing along with an almost somber inevitability.

first Madvillain, now Danger Doom. . . i'm crossing my fingers that next year will bring another MF Doom collaboration that is as irresistible as these two records.


bow down to her on sunday
salute her when her birthday comes
for halloween buy her a trumpet
and for christmas give her a drum

(happy birthday, L.L.)

Monday, December 19, 2005


Earth "Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method" (Southern Lord)

if i didn't mention it already, my list this year is populated with mostly instrumental music. and slow music. here we find Earth moving further away from the drony low end sludge (which they pretty much invented fifteen years ago) and approaching. . . country? blues? the friends of dean martinez way back when? the 19th century western landscape? the beautiful photos in the booklet certainly add that kind of flavor to the proceedings, and the music fits them like some ken burns documentary just waiting to be made.

and another thing: hex signs didn't work. here's looking at you, mike.


Bohren & Der Club of Gore "Geisterfaust" (Wonder)

don't let the name confuse you. this music may be ominous, but it's not gory. there's a lot of space and repetition, the tempo creeping along in a morton feldman kind of fashion. the instrumentation suggests jazz: upright bass, brushed drums, fender rhodes, saxophone. the five pieces are named after the five fingers, but they don't come in that order. the best way i've found so far to hear this music is to ride a bike through warehouse neighborhoods after everyone has gone to sleep, coasting as much as possible. i'm reminded of all the things i liked about the first Low record, and of why Reinbert de Leeuw is my favorite pianist for Satie's music. . . the chords are left hanging in the air like those hallucinatory sounds you think you hear just before falling asleep. the constant suspense. something hiding behind the door. quiet as a mouse.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


F. S. Blumm "Zweite Meer" (Morr Music)

pretty little things with no words. f. plays almost everything himself; things like the accordion, xylophones, melodica, guitar, toys. the sound is warm and comforting, but fraglie as well. the actual instruments are occasionally massaged with some subtle electronic tweaking. it reminds me a lot of a record called "the isle" by World Standard and Wechsel Garland that i've been liking a lot lately, but it missed this list by a year or two. david grubbs sings on the last track. in english, the title means "second sea," which makes me wish i could listen to this underwater.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Ocean "Here Where Nothing Grows" (Important Records)

low and slow, heavy and expansive, this is the sound that i was hoping for from Pelican this year. Ocean is four guys from maine, and this is their first full length i think; three songs about twenty minutes each, working their way through slow motion riffs and from quiet to explosive, w/ a few moments that might even be called pretty (in the way that an approaching thunderstorm can be kind of pretty, w/ the greenish light creeping in, the leaves turning upside down, ominous empty streets. . . maybe sublime is a better word.)

the vocals might turn some listeners off, being typical of the doom genre, growly and creepy and not understandable. they don't last long, though, and taken simply as sound, they perfectly match the mood of the music, which is slightly apocalyptic.

my enjoyment of this kind of thing increases as the days get colder, and if i had to shovel a bunch of snow you can bet that this would be in my headphones.

honorable mentions

here at the end of the year i like to make a list of what i found to be the year's best music. and to draw out the suspense, i'll just mention one record per post, hopefully per day. but we'll start with two things that deserve honorable mention. two pretty good records i was anticipating and expecting to like a lot more than i did: Pelican "The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw" (on Hydrahead) and Silver Jews "Tanglewood Numbers" (on Drag City).

the heaviness of Pelican's earlier output is lessening a bit, and their harmonic structures are beginning to sound a little typically 'emo' and predictable to my ears. i wouldn't be surprised if their next album has some singing on it, further diluting the purity of their presentation.

and "Tanglewood Numbers" just seems a little cluttered with unnecessary overdubs that get in the way of David Berman's fragile vocal delivery.

on the other hand, these records are better than most everything else i heard this year, and i've been liking them more with each listen.