My Radiohead In Rainbows “discbox” set arrived today, and it’s quite a sight.
There’s a heavy cardboard slipcover over the box/book package. Inside, an inner pocket holds a 12-inch square glossy booklet of abstract artwork. The right side consists of an attached 12×6 booklet containing more art and the lyrics along with the two CDs (the album proper on the first, 8 bonus tracks plus a couple of folders full of more digital artwork and photography from the recording sessions on the second). And lastly, slits on each side (in traditional LP gatefold sleeve fashion) contain the two heavyweight 12-inch 45 RPM vinyl records with the album’s 10 tracks.
I haven’t had a chance to listen to any of the new material yet (although I’ve already enjoyed the main album via download for the past couple of months), but already I am incredibly impressed with the quality of the presentation. The product itself is a work of art.
Things were just different back in 1971. And if you don’t believe me, consider this: a very successful rock album from that year was Fragile by Yes.
This album contained not only three tracks near or longer than eight minutes each, but five brief tracks that were the individual creations of each member of the band. Some members were not so enthusiastic about this approach, most notably drummer Bill Bruford, whose contribution was an awkward, 37-second noodlefest for drums, guitar, bass, and organ entitled “Five Per Cent for Nothing” [sic, although apparently that’s how they spell it in Britain].
Only 37 seconds, you say? Or more to the point, only five percent, you say? I have now attempted to rectify that shortcoming.
The piece as it originally appears consists of a complex rhythmic pattern, played through twice by the band. Well, if twice through constitutes five percent, simple arithmetic tells us that 40 times through will yield the full 100%. (It also clocks in at a pleasing 11:11.)
If you like/can tolerate this, I encourage you to consider purchasing the full album. (For what it’s worth, I myself have purchased it in one form or another no less than seven times.) It features some outstanding playing and great songs, including my favorite piece of music in the history of human civilization, “Heart of the Sunrise.”
But if you’re in the market for something a little more current… a little more seasonally-appropriate… a little more ridiculously titled, then I would steer you no further than to Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir, a drunken joke new Christmas album featuring Yes bassist Chris Squire, drummer Jeremy Stacey (formerly of Sheryl Crow’s touring band and more recently of the briefly-reformed-and-now-once-again-defunct lineup of Squire’s pre-Yes band, The Syn), and ’70s-era Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett.
Normally I would look at something like this and think, “Mannheim Steamroller, but somehow, incomprehensibly worse.” And yet, from the samples I checked out online, it’s surprisingly not complete shit! “Complete” being the operative word. When I emailed a friend about this album, with the subject line “Holy crap,” he replied “I think you have just come up with the perfect two word review for this album.”
If by any chance you do choose to purchase it, I would implore you to consider doing so via this link to the iTunes store, so they’ll know who recommended it! (OK, they won’t. But at least I’ll get a tiny piece of the action.)
Wow, I can’t believe this is already the fourth year I’ve been doing this. I am truly an old fart because the years really are flying by now. That’s what happens when you’ve made 34 trips around the sun. I’m just scared to think what it’ll feel like when I’m 60.
Well enough angst. Let’s talk music. And there’s a lot to talk about: 2007 has, for my tastes at least, been an unparalleled year for new music. I would have a hard time identifying a year that’s produced more great music without going all the way back to 1971. (And I wasn’t around to experience that firsthand.) So, without further ado, here we go.
I’ve been a Rush-head for over half my life now. A sad fact of a band this long-lived and prolific is watching the quality of their output deteriorate over time. The band’s last full-length album, 2002’s Vapor Trails, was surprisingly good musically, but suffered from some of the worst production in the last several decades. The band had been enthusiastically touting Snakes and Arrows for several months before its release, and with good reason. The album is phenomenal. Easily their best work since 1984’s Grace Under Pressure. Great, rocking music, with more dynamics and variety than we’ve heard from the boys in years; lyrics with surprisingly deep insight into the woes of early 21st century American society; first-rate production; and… well what can I say? Three instrumentals. It just doesn’t get much better in the Rush canon.
Michael Brecker was at the pinnacle of the post-Coltrane jazz world for upwards of 30 years. Late last year he was diagnosed with terminal leukemia, and with less than 5 months to live, he put together a final farewell to those of us who’ve followed his brilliant music over the years. This album is full of moments of profound beauty and intense burning jazz as full of life as anything he’d ever done. Sadly he did not survive to see the album released, but it remains a fitting good-bye to this jazz legend.
I’ve enjoyed Wilco’s music since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and have been fascinated to hear the evolution of the band’s sound on each album. This is very much back-to-basics, and it works extraordinarily well. It’s simply not possible to listen to this music and not feel good. In a good way.
This is the album it seems everyone was talking about in October. It may still see a traditional release in stores in 2008, but so far it’s only available as a pay-what-you-want download from the band’s website. But that in no way means it’s inferior work. The band has covered some challenging musical ground in the past decade since the release of their masterpiece, OK Computer, and this album bookends that one nicely. (There’s plenty of speculation out there that the albums really were intended to integrate in Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon style, but I’ll leave that to the stoners to prove.) If you haven’t already, download it now. What are you waiting for? (I assume you are wondering what, if anything, I paid for it. Well, I sucked it up and bought the £40 deluxe package, which should be arriving next month.
I loved In Your Honor so I was eagerly awaiting the release of this album and it did not disappoint! From the lead single “The Pretender” straight on through, the band displays brilliant songwriting, impeccable chops (these guys can really play, and if you doubt that, be sure also to check out drummer Taylor Hawkins’ guest work on Coheed and Cambria’s No World for Tomorrow), and a wide stylistic and dynamic range. Dave Grohl’s voice matches the music perfectly, from a delicate whisper to a larynx-shredding scream. The best album of a great year of music.
As I said, it’s been a great year for music. It was hard to narrow the list down to 5. Here, in no particular order (OK, they’re alphabetical by artist), are some of the other great albums I enjoyed this year:
And there are a few others that just missed the cut, like The Dear Hunter and Portugal. The Man. (“Portugal. The Man.” is one band. You have to give them credit just for the audacity of that band name.)
At least it didn’t take me until July this time, but the only reason I’ve gotten around to this year’s list so soon is because I just happened to be looking at last year’s list and I realized, “Hey, I haven’t made a new list yet!” So, here you go.
This is what Gentle Giant might sound like if they appeared on the scene today. What’s amazing is how much nerdy intricacy these guys can cram into each song without coming across as pretentious, something first-wave prog rockers constantly struggled with (or, occasionally, as with Gentle Giant, embraced with tongue in cheek).
As I said with 2005’s Guero, any Beck is good. When I first heard this I thought it was too reminiscent of things he’s done before, but now I’ve come to see it as a further refinement of his style. I don’t get the last track though… and I pride myself on getting weird-for-the-sake-of-weird stuff.
Half a Dan is better than no Dan at all. The Fagen/Becker duo has given us a lot to relish in the new century, and that continues with this fantastic album, easily the best of Fagen’s outstanding (if very slowly emerging) solo trilogy.
I consider this to be the best album in nearly a decade, certainly on par with the likes of OK Computer. I was immediately blown away by this band upon hearing this album and within a couple of weeks, had bought everything they’ve released. Why are you still reading this? Buy the album! Now!
Here are some other great albums released in 2006 that didn’t make the cut:
The first release candidate (version 1.2) of “Morgantown Expressway” is ready. I have a rather humorous track of my almost-4-year-old son rambling on about light sabers and Pokémon, which he did directly after sitting in while I recorded the saxophone parts, and I’m still debating whether to include it in the final mix or not. Here, it is not.