Sunday, December 25, 2011

This Is Not Another Best Records Of 2011 List.

R.I.P. Trish Keenan - "You're missed."
I'm tired of Best Of lists: the idea that things need arbitrary categorical ranking stipulating just what, in most reviewers opinions, constitutes the absolute best of, well, pretty much any and everything. Nine will get you 10 that one person's Top 10 list is another person's signal of the dumbing-down of our society.

Take Best Of lists regarding recorded music, for instance. At (or near) the end of every year, trivial blogs like the one you're reading right now take time and energy pouring over their summations of what the writer feel are their favorite records of the year. And good for them; these folks usually have pretty good taste in music. But here's the thing: they have shit ability to rank said music in any fashion whatsoever. Most of the bands I've seen ranked in any discernible way are more often than not the inverse of any selection I'd make. And vice-versa for them of my list, I'm sure.

Worst yet are the so-called professional purveyors of music criticism: rock journalists. Take for instance the re-launched Magnet magazine. On their cover of this month's issue is the band Yuck, who's self-titled album also just happens to be Magnet's pick for releasing the No. 1 album of the year. Now, I like Yuck and enjoy their music, but No. 1 album of the year? More than Wild Flag's debut, Dum Dum Girl's Only In Dreams, Real Estate's Day's, or either of The Oh Sees two stellar long players (those latter three bands didn't even rank in Magnet's Top 10 poll)!?! Again, don't get me wrong; Yuck is a great band - one that's very reminiscent of those wonderful 1990's "alt-rock," 120-Minutes days - but I didn't find their 2011 album to sound "...current, vintage and timeless all at once," as Magnet's Editor-In-Chief Eric T. Miller did in his editor's letter (to my mind, the only band that could pull off these three feats at once was Love).

(Of course Magnet is the same publication that ranked The Shins' Chutes Too Narrow second to The Wrens' The Meadowlands as the best album of 2004, so, you know... )

Which leads me back to my point (I have one, right? Oh yeah... ): year-end, Best Of lists are absolute bullshit! Ranking music in this modern day and age is largely pointless. There's just so fuckin' much of it - we're overwhelmed! And people are tied so tightly to the shit they love, that saying anything to the contrary to what they insert into their ears is a direct assault on their musical tastes and egos. Who needs it?

To that I end, I present to you my list of the 40 songs that I enjoyed in 2011. I even took the time to format them into a 2x mix CD format complete with cover art. See? Best Of lists are cut. Listing shit on the Internet? That's where it's at these days!


The Last Gas: Some Of The Best Of 2011

Disc One
1. Wild Flag “Romance(from Wild Flag, Sub Pop Records)
2. Ganglians “Jungle(from Still Living, Lefse Records)
3. Toro Y Moi “Got Blinded(from Underneath the Pine, Carpark Records)
4. Karl Blau “Celebrate By Singing(from the Max EP, K Records)
5. Dum Dum Girls “Bedroom Eyes(from Only In Dreams, Sub Pop Records)
6. Death Grips “Spread Eagle Cross the Block(from Ex Military, Third World Records)
7. Fleet Foxes “Lorelai(from Helplessness Blues, Sub Pop Records)
8. The Black Keys “Lonely Boy(from El Camino, Nonesuch Records)
9. Washed Out “Amor Fati(from Within and Without, Sub Pop Records)
10. Thee Oh Sees “Carrion Crawler(from Carrion Crawler/The Dream, In the Red Records)
11. Raphael Saadiq “Heart Attack(from Stone Rollin', Sony Music Entertainment)
12. Ty Segall “You Make the Sun Fry(from Goodbye Bread, Drag City Records)
13. Wilco “Black Moon(from The Whole Love, dBpm Records)
14. Meat Puppets “Damn Thing(from Lollipop, Megaforce Records)
15. Woods “Any Other Day(from Sun and Shade, Woodist Records)
16. Diego Garcia “You Were Never There(from Laura, Nacional Records)
17. Destroyer “Chinatown(from Kaputt, Merge Records)
18. Caitlin Rose “Shanghai Cigarettes(from Own Side Now, ATO Records)
19. Kurt Vile “Jesus Fever(from Smoke Ring For My Halo, Matador Records)
20. Mazzy Star “Common Burn(from the Common Burn single, Rhymes Of An Hour Records)

Disc 2
1. The Feelies “Should Be Gone(from Here Before, Bar None Records)
2. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks “Senator(from Mirror Traffic, Matador Records)
3. Bon Iver “Holocene(From Bon Iver, Jagjaguwar Records)
4. Elliott Smith “The Real Estate(from Live From Nowhere Near You, Vol. II, Pt. 3, Funkhead Music)
5. Deer Tick “Miss K(from Divine Providence, Partisan Records)
6. Tom Waits “Bad As Me(from Bad As Me, Anti- Records)
7. Fruit Bats “So Long(from Tripper, Sup Pop Records)
8. Thurston Moore “Circulation(from Demolished Thoughts, Matador Records)
9. Real Estate “It’s Real(from Days, Domino recording Co. Ltd.)
10. Beirut “Santa Fe(from The Rip Tide, Pompeii Records)
11. Beach Fossils feat. Jack TatumOut In the Way(from the What A Pleasure EP, Captured Tracks)
12. The Minders “Needle Doll(from PDX Pop Now! 2011, PDX Pop Now! Records)
13. Cass McCombs “County Line(from Wit's End, Domino Recording Co. Ltd.)
14. St. Vincent “Cruel(from Strange Mercy, 4AD Records)
15. Boston Spaceships “Tourist U.F.O.(from Let It Beard, GBV Inc.)
16. Crystal Stilts “Precarious Stair(from In Love With Oblivion, Slumberland Records)
17. M83 “Midnight City(from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, M83 Recordings, Inc.)
18. The War On Drugs “Baby Missiles(from Slave Ambient, Secretly Canadian Records)
19. Youth Lagoon “July(from The Year Of Hibernation, Fat Possum Records)
20. tUnE-yArDs “Powa(from Whokill, 4AD Records)

Bonus Picks:
1. Tennis "Origins" (from the Origins single, Fat Possum Records)
2. Radiation City "The Color Of Industry" (from The Hand That Takes You, Tender Loving Empire)
3. Charles Bradley & the Menahan Street Band "How Long" (from No Time For Dreaming, Daptone Records) 
4. Yuck "Holing Out" (from Yuck, Fat Possum Records)
5. J. Mascis "Not Enough" (from Several Shades of Why, Sub Pop Records) 
6. Atlas Sound "Terra Incognita" (from Parallax, 4AD Records)
7. The Caretaker "Fleeting Dreams" (from An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, History Always Favors the Winners) 
8. Dirty Beaches "Sweet 17" (from Badlands, Zoo Music)
9. Mogwai "San Pedro" (from Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Sub Pop Records)
10. Gold Leaves "Endless Dope" (from The Ornament, Hardly Art Records)

Other stuff I really enjoyed this year:

Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Diablo Cody
Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswald and Patrick Wilson

With her bitterly dark character study, Young Adult, I am thoroughly convinced that Diablo Cody is one of Hollywood's most insightful, intuitive and intelligent philosophers working today (oh, and she's also a damned good writer, too!) Cody's Mavis Gary (played to icy, indifferent perfection by Charlize Theron) is the embodiment of post 1990's slackerdom, aimlessly adrift, morally compromised and self-satisfied in a world full of Facebook, Twitter and blogs (!) Convinced that she can retain some semblance of self after her recently failed marriage, Mavis (a ghost writer of a flagging tween-centric book series) returns to her small Minnesota town to reclaim the love of her high school life: Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Unfortunately for her, Buddy's happily married and a new father. Not that this, or the advice of her old classmate, Matt Freehauf (played to bittersweet, nerdtastic perfection by Patton Oswald), can stop Mavis' drunken, rambling anti-social blitzkrieg or delusion-fueled free fall from sanity. That Mavis does not change or alter herself or her managerist outlook from the beginning of the film to the end is a masterstroke of storytelling - one which Cody is obviously strongly adept at. Teamed-up again with Juno director Jason Reitman (who is fast becoming one of my favorite directors after Thank You For Smoking and Up In the Air), Cody proves to be one of the sharpest knives in Tinseltown's drawer. As one of the few women (Miranda July also had a fantastically understated film this year, by the way) making substantial waves in a sadly male-dominated sea, Diablo Cody's insights into the imperfections of the human condition are by turns hilarious, cringe-inducing and profound. I honestly cannot wait to see what this writer comes up with next.

Wriiten by Nick Attfield 

Jeebus! I remember buying this record brand new on cassette when it first came out in 1980-something-or-other. Now it gets the 33 1/3 treatment? Oy vey! I recently re-bought this album (on vinyl, natch!) when Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph swung by The Fillmore in San Francisco to play Bug (the album that signaled the trio's last incarnation as "Dinosaur Jr," by the by) from beginning to end. But that the age we live in I suppose; fresh outta new ideas, condemned to repeat our old ones (not that the soundtrack is all that, mind you). As with every other 33 1/3 book in the series, this behind the scenes tome is essential for fans that need more than a half sheet of info to sate their info-lust. It's all in there: the self-destruction, conflicting egos, indifference, and other dysfunctional behaviors this trio was infamous for. But there are also keen insights that delve directly into the making of this record, with stories culled from interviews of all three band members and principle supporting players. Essential reading, pretty much.

Show: Dinosaur Jr
Bug, the album in its entirety.
The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA

What can I say? I got to this show late. I missed Henry Rollings interviewing the band before the show, and walked into venue right in the middle of "Freak Scene" (which was so sonically piercing I could actually (((feel))) it from the sidewalk on Geary Blvd). Yet despite my late arrival, this show was absolutely awesome. Bug has always been my favorite album by this band, and continues to be in my Top-25 Records Of All Time in my mind. It was honestly thrilling to watch this band tear through "No Bones," "Let It Ride" and "Budge" with little to no verbal interaction with the crowd. Even when Lou Barlow brought a glasses-toting ginger-topped audience member who looked to be all of 19 (?) on stage to completely butcher the timing of "Don't" (a song which consist simply of the phrase "Why don't you like me?" repeated over and over again), this show was still a gas. Sadly, during the encore, the band didn't play any of the B-sides that accompanied this record, most notably the frenzied version of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven." But this is gift-horse-in-the-mouth compared to seeing these legends on the same stage together, playing one of the best records that ever destroyed a band (Bug was the last record featuring Dinosaur Jr's original line-up, don'tcha know). That constant ringing in my ears was well worth it.

Shoe: Nike 6.0 Rzol Low

I've been waiting for this shoe - literally. A couple of years ago, while working for a shoe company designing knock-off Air Force 1's (otherwise know as my "season of hell"), I drew-up a mock-up of a shoe that was a sort of cross between an eS' Koston 6, a Clark's Wallabee and a Redwing boot. I had few variations (low top, slip-on, chukka, etc.) and even a company name, but regrettably no capital or interested investors. Flash-forward to last June of this year where I'm in a shoe store in some mall looking over a wall of shoes when my eyes land on the 6.0 Rzol Low's by Nike. There it all was: the toe-to-heel banding, the gum-rubber sidewall, the retro, mod-looking stylization. I was so floored, I actually dragged my wife out of Sophora and back into this shoe store to look at these shoes (she wasn't impressed, like, at all). So taken was I with these 6.0 Rzol's, however, that I actually now have two pairs of them, with my eye on a third. Seeing as how Nike seems to be phasing them out on their website at half-off sale prices, a pair of the 6.0 Rzol Low Premium's should prove easier to obtain. I augmented my second pair with a set of hiking boot laces I bought at Safeway, and they look pretty fuckin' nifty (see picture above for proof of lack-of-life). Cha, cha, cha!

Bike: Urago (reconditioned)
Purchased at Edible Pedal, Sacramento, CA

This Urago 10-speed was originally going to be my camouflage bike, since this bike was functional, yet so damned but ugly (honestly, this bike was so haggard and weather-beaten, it looked like it would have given you a staff infection just looking at it. A new matte black paint job and augmentation with new and NOS parts (Godspeed hubs, Velo Orange handlebars, a used Brooks B-72 saddle, etc.), and this is how that old French-made Urago appears today. And it rides even better (it still need a front break caliper, and I want to get some Brooks grips and a pump for the downtube). Honestly, there's nothing like refurbishing an old bike. Give it a try!

That's it. See you 2012!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Duck & Cover: The Shins

Photo via
So, it's been a while since James Mercer and his whimsy-infused band, The Shins, released any new material (it's been about 5 years since Wincing The Night Away came out, by the by). At the rate he's been covering other musician's songs, however, Indierock's Tim Burton has proven to possess great taste in music. Witness...

1. "Strange Powers" (Magnetic Fields) mp3
2. "Baby Boomerang" (T. Rex) mp3
3. "Breathe" (Pink Floyd) mp3
4.  "We Will Become Silhouettes" (The Postal Service) mp3
5.  "Goodbye Girl" (Squeeze) mp3
6.  "Taste Of Cindy (Live)" (The Jesus and Mary Chain) mp3