Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Absolute Best Records Of 2017


This is the 2017 edition of my annual list of the Absolute Best Records of the year.  There were some real winners this time out and in particular, the top 5 really monopolized my time in 2017.  I listened to those five records a lot this year.

2017 is the first year in a long time where I don't have a list of records that extended past a top 30.  I mean, sure, I bought a few more records that what I've listed below, but I usually have quite a long list of albums after 30.  I think that pretty much confirms what I've thought for most of the year, 2017 just didn't have quite as many amazing records as usual.

That's not to say there weren't great records.  Just a quick listen to the ones listed below will shatter that notion.  The Chinchees, Charly Bliss and Short Straw Fate would be fighting for the top spot in almost any year and honestly, it's really a coin flip on which of the three I like best.  Plus, all three are bands that are brand new to me, so you have to give bonus points for that.

I'll be taking a little break from posting new reviews for a bit, but I should be back with new records to write about on January 8th.

01 - The Chinchees - The Chinchees - Dirt Cult (Listen)
02 - Charly Bliss - Guppy - Barsuk (Listen)
03 - Short Straw Fate - For The Heroes In My Record Rack - Fixing A Hole (Listen)
04 - Racquet Club - Racquet Club - Rise (Listen)
05 - Remnants - True Places Never Are - Tour Van / Different Kitchen / Emily (Listen)
06 - Needles // Pins - Good Night, Tomorrow - Dirt Cult / Mint (Listen)
07 - A Giant Dog - Toy - Merge (Listen)
08 - Lost Balloons - Hey Summer - Dirtnap (Listen)
09 - Phoenix Foundation - Closer - Waterslide / Boss Tuneage (Listen) 
10 - Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound - Carpark (Listen)

11 - Good Shade - Lunch - Gut Genug / A-F
12 - Warm Soda - I Don’t Wanna Grow Up - Castle Face
13 - Ted Leo - The Hanged Man - Self Released
14 - Cheap Wine - Cheap Wine - Drunken Sailor
15 - Greensleep - Cheap Headphones - Dead Broke
16 - Holiday - California Steamin’ - Brassneck / Pumpkin / Antikorper Export / Prejudice Me
17 - Your Pest Band - Old Springhead - Snuffy Smiles / Brassneck / Dead Broke
18 - Zapiain - Giantnormous - All In / Bombed Out
19 - Bear Trade - Silent Unspeakable - Dead Broke / Everything Sucks
20 - Marvelous Mark - Buzzin’ - Drunken Sailor

21 - Iron Chic - You Can’t Stay Here - Side One Dummy
22 - Capitalist Kids - Brand Damage - Brassneck / Eccentric Pop
23 - Midnight Reruns - Spectator Sports - Dusty Medical
24 - The Golden Boys - Better Than Good Times - 12XU
25 - The Obleeks - The Obleeks - Good Land
26 - Heavy Heart - Distance - Brassneck / Can I Say / Don’t Trust The Hype / Guerilla Asso / Inhumano / Monster Zero
27 - The Lillingtons - Stella Sapiente - Fat Wreck
28 - Out - Swim Buddies - Comedy Minus One
29 - Jim And The French Vanilla - Afraid Of The House - Dirtnap
30 - Sweet Knives - Sweet Knives - Big Neck


Friday, December 22, 2017

Gene Autry - Christmas Favorites LP


CBS (1981)

Excluding the Ventures' Christmas Album, this Gene Autry LP is hands down my favorite Christmas record.  While it certainly isn't as rocking as the Ventures and likely may not appeal to everyone that typically reads this website, there's something about these songs that are so ingrained into me that I can't get into the Christmas mood without them.

My dad had this album on cassette when I was a kid and when it was Christmas time, it would always get broken out.  The songs, by Gene Autry - the singing cowboy, are very obviously geared towards children, which was probably a lot of the appeal.  About ten years ago or so, I picked up a CD that contained every Christmas song that Gene Autry recorded for Columbia records.  It covers everything that is on this LP plus another dozen or so more songs.  That tends to be my go to this time of the year, but I wanted to have these songs on vinyl and I really wanted the specific album I listened to as a kid.  Luckily while kicking around on eBay, I found a copy that was brand new, still sealed and it was only ten bucks.  An easy decision.

The songs on this album are some of the most classic every written.  You have "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" (the song that Gene originally made famous), "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town."  There's no way you haven't heard these before as they are the very essence of traditional Christmas music.  

For me, it's the deep cuts on the album that really make it for me.  "If It Doesn't Snow On Christmas" spins a tale of how could Santa Claus get to your house if there's no snow and he can't use his sleigh.  It's full of charming imagery of Santa flying a plane and other unusual modes of transportation.  "Christmas Waltz" is a slow, wonderful song about a couple dancing together while the spirit of the season affects everyone around them.  

Then there are my two personal favorites: "The Night Before Christmas (In Texas That Is)" and "Merry Texas Christmas You All."  Both put a cowboy spin on the traditional Christmas story, and I have to admit, they have an even funnier, more personal connection for me now since my wife is originally from Texas.  It's impossible for me to say enough good things about this album.  I just love it to bits and rest assured it's going to be played pretty non stop for the next few days.

This will be my last proper review of the year.  Right around New Years, I'll post my Absolute Best Records of 2017 list, but aside from that I'll be taking a break and doing a lot of eating.  Hope everyone has a nice holiday and a happy new year.

Gene Autry - "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer":

Gene Autry - "If It Doesn't Snow On Christmas":

Gene Autry - "Merry Texas Christmas, You All":

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Blues Brothers - I Got Everything I Need (Almost) 7" (Japan)


Atlantic (1978)

"I Got Everything I Need (Almost)" was the last song from Briefcase Full Of Blues to be released as a single.  Like "Rubber Biscuit," it wasn't released in the US or Europe with any picture sleeve.  The only region that received one was Japan and it's a good one.  This 7" has completely unique artwork that wasn't recycled from any previous Blues Brothers record and features a pretty excellent shot of the boys dancing on stage.  It's uniqueness makes it one of my favorite Blues Brothers 7"s that I've picked up during this quest to find all of their picture sleeves.  

"I Got Everything I Need (Almost)" has long been one of my favorite Blues Brothers songs.  It's positioned in that first run of songs on Side A that leads up to "Rubber Biscuit," perhaps one of the greatest album stretches I've ever heard.  I always liked the affectation that Jake uses on his voice on this song, it gives it a feeling that you don't really hear on any of the others, almost as if the character of this song has just stumbled out of a bar drowning his sorrows and this song is his confession of why he's so down.

On the B side we have "Hey Bartender."  This is another song pulled from that same batch of songs on side A of Briefcase Full Of Blues. It's the first real song on the album after the "Can't Turn You Loose" intro and again, it's a long time favorite of mine.  The band is on fire and Jake is all revved up for this one.  It could be argued this song is one of the most emblematic songs The Blues Brothers ever did.  While certainly not their most well known or popular, it really sort of captures the band at their peak on Briefcase Full Of Blues.  Both are incredible songs and this 7" is absolutely one of the crown jewels in my budding Blues Brothers 7" collection.

The Blues Brothers - "I Got Everything I Need (Almost)": 

The Blues Brothers - "Hey Bartender":

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Hussy - I See Just Fine 7" - White Vinyl


Big Neck (2017)

This 7" is the last one left out of the package that Big Neck sent me to review. I didn't leave it for last  for any specific reason.  It's not my least favorite of the Big Neck records I received, though I can't quite say I've saved the best for last either.  It's actually just a pretty solid, easy to listen to 7".

The Hussy is pumping our treble heavy guitar mixed in with an abundance of raw energy and fast paced drumming.  The songs have a pretty straightforward pop catchiness to them, but it's rammed through a meat grinder of fuzz, keeping it rough and ready.  A side "I See Just Fine" rests on the strength of a hooky, repeated guitar lead and the lost-in-a-cave vocals that tie everything together.  I don't love the breakdown in the middle where a bunch of sampled dialog drifts through the song, but other than that, it's a hit.

There's two songs on the B side, but the second one "Better Stuff" is the highlight.  It's a short, fast blast of garage-y pop punk.  It feels like the entire song is a chorus, with its super catchy vocal melody and bouncy drumming.  It may be the best thing on the 7" and I wish it were twice as long as it is.  I wasn't really familiar with Hussy prior to checking out this 7", but this 7" of their's is pretty good stuff.

The Hussy - I See Just Fine 7":

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

V/A - Christmas In Soulsville LP - Green Vinyl (/500)


Stax (2015, reissue)

I'll admit it.  I bought the wrong soul Christmas album.  I thought I was buying Soul Christmas with "Gee Whiz, It's Christmas" by Carla Thomas and "Back Door Santa" by Clarence Carter.  I was wrong.  Christmas In Soulsville, focuses more on later era Stax Chirstmas releases.  Moving more into that 70s funk/Hot Buttered Soul sound.  There's two Isaac Hayes songs on this one.

My issue is twofold.  One, I don't really like the direction that Stax moved to when they started doing the Isaac Hayes era releases.  I prefer my soul a little earlier and a bit more upbeat.  That brings me to my second issue with this compilation; there's just too many slow songs.  Both Isaac Hayes songs are excruciating to get through, they're just so damn slow.  "Please Come Home For Christmas" by Johnny Taylor and "What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas" by The Emotions are similar in that they don't feel festive to me.

That being said there are still great songs on this.  It's a Stax record after all, they were bursting at the seams with talent.  Otis Redding's "Merry Christmas Baby" makes an appearance and is a show stopper.  "Winter Wonderland" by Booker T and the MG's isn't my favorite of their Christmas tunes, but it's still a solid entry.  I also really enjoy "I'll Be Your Santa Baby " by Rufus Thomas and "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" by Sir Mack Rice.  

This wasn't a wasted purchase as there are plenty of great Christmas songs on here.  But, it's just not the non stop hit factory that Soul Christmas is.  So that's going to have to be top of the list next year.

V/A - Christmas In Soulsville:

Monday, December 18, 2017

Turncoat - I. R. I. S. CD


Waterslide / Mostoff (2015)

Turncoat is another one of those Japanese bands that I somehow completely missed keeping track of.  I picked up their first album back in 2011, but never kept up on their other releases.  In addition to the CD Ep that I'm reviewing today, I just realized that Turncoat have a second full length CD that I didn't know existed either.  I really need to do abetter job of keeping track of bands that I like.

I guess it was worth the self inflicted wait on listening to this EP, because it is pretty great.  Strong, mid tempo and catchy punk rock with dueling male/female vocals and hooks in all of the right spots.  This CD is also a reminder that I actually have no idea how to play the guitar as they effortless shift from delicate and intricate leads to crunchy and dynamic chord progressions.  

There are elements of the way the band structures their songs that remind me of Dear You era Jawbreaker, though the vocals are completely different.  This comparison is especially interesting as the band also tackles an early Jawbreaker song with their cover of "Want" on this release (it's not up on the Bandcamp link, but it is on the CD itself).  It's a really great version that blends in surprising well with the rest of the band's original material.  If nothing else, I'm going to try really hard not to miss any future releases by Turncoat.  Oh, and I also have to go back and try to find their second album as well.

Turncoat - I. R. I. S.:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Beach Boys - Christmas Album LP - Green Vinyl (/1000)


Capitol (2016, Reissue)

It's no secret to those around me that I absolutely love Christmas music.  Every year at this time I break out my Christmas playlist and fine tune it.  Adding new songs and removing ones that just don't cut it anymore.  It's a constantly evolving organism and every year I get just a bit closer to it being perfect.  Additionally, I've been trying to snag at least one of my favorite Christmas albums on vinyl every year.  This year I actually ended picking up three, so I'll sprinkle their reviews in over the next week.

The Beach Boys Christmas album really should be a total slam dunk.  And on the A side it is.  Six straight songs of good time, rock and roll Christmas music.  We've got the Beach Boys original staples like "Little Saint Nick," "The Man With All The Toys" and "Santa's Beard."  It's the very best of 1960s Beach Boys meets the Christmas Season.  They also do a really fun, spirited version of "Frosty The Snowman."  The A side of this album is pretty flawless.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for the B side.  The album just grinds to a screeching halt with a series of slow, traditional covers. "We Three Kings of Orient Are" is comically terrible and they even manage to ruin some of my traditional favorites like "Blue Christmas" and "White Christmas."  The only thing worthwhile on the B side is "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," but even that can't hold a candle to anything on side A.

I wish that when they were recording this album, they just kept writing original Christmas songs.  Those are the highlights here.  When they veer from that, a lot of this record becomes skippable.  Still, that A side is so white hot, it's a record that has to be in my collection.

The Beach Boys - "Little Saint Nick":

The Beach Boys - "Santa's Beard":

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Heavy Lids - Bleed 7" - Blue Vinyl


Big Neck (2017)

Of the recent batch of records that Big Neck sent me, I'm probably least interested in this Heavy Lids 7".  Not that it's inherently bad or anything, but it's not the sort of band that typically connects with me.

Both songs are pretty barebones, full force ahead, stomping blasts in the tradition of early 80s punk rock forefathers. The guitars are a brutal wall of fuzz that combine with very prominent keyboards and gritty vocals.  There's a subtle hook buried in the A side "Bleed," but it's really subtle.  You're mostly smacked in the face with a barrage of pounding drums.

On the B side "No Reason," things slow down a little, but it's still a pretty angsty and powerful.  For the type of music they're playing, Heavy Lids do a totally fine job of things.  This just isn't really the sort of thing that I'm usually into.  I need songs that are a bit catchier.

Heavy Lids - Bleed 7"

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Phoenix Foundation - Closer LP


Waterslide / Boss Tuneage / Best Seller (2017)

First off, I should point out that this isn't the Phoenix Foundation band from New Zealand.  I don't know anything about those dudes other than they sure come up a lot when you're searching for the Phoenix Foundation Bandcamp page.  I'm sure they're nice guys and all, but the record I'm writing about is by the Phoenix Foundation from Finland.

I first heard of these guys as a recommendation since I liked the band Manifesto Jukebox.  I picked up a CD of theirs that came out back in 2003.  It was good stuff, really fiery and fast.  For whatever reason, they kind of fell off my radar after that.  I picked up the occasional single and EP, but I never grabbed another one of their full lengths.  I guess they were one of those bands that ware harder for me to keep tabs on.

Fast forward to this year and Phoenix Foundation's newest release Closer is back on my radar thanks to Waterslide records.  I can say this is a band that has gone through some changes since 2003.  The entire tempo of the record has calmed way down since their ballistic debut.  It's for the better really.  With a slightly slower pace, the songs have more freedom to expand and the hooks have more time to build and get lodged in your head.  Before, things would rush by so fast you couldn't always grab each subtle nuance.  This time out the songwriting quality is much more obvious because you have time to hear the details.

The band still has an obvious debt to the gravel throated, Leatherface style of punk rock.  But, like Leatherface, The Phoenix Foundation has become more confident in their craft.  Closer is a really outstanding record.  If there's one complaint I have, I just wish it was even longer.

The Phoenix Foundation - Closer:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Red Dons - Genocide 7" - Red Vinyl (/150)


Man In Decline (2017)

I'd be hard pressed to name a band that has been more consistently great over the past ten years than Red Dons.  While they never seem to get the sort of accolades or attention that I think they deserve, this is a band that is incapable of not churning out a hit record every time.  

Red Dons have been a bit quiet since the release of their 2015 album, The Dead Hand of Tradition.  Apparently they've been hiding and writing masterpieces.  Side A of this 7" kicks off with "Genocide."  The band once again shows their mastery of dark, downstroke heavy punk rock that still manages to hide incredible pop hooks.  Hot Snakes may be downstroke warlords, but Red Dons surely have a fiefdom of their own.

B side "Letters" is just as great with a jangly guitar tone that still manages to sound kind of sinister, yet retains the sort of catchiness you'd expect to find in a much more lighthearted band.  There's something really special about this group and I sure hope that this 7" is a precursor to a new album.  That's something I'd pick up on day one.

Red Dons - Genocide 7":

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Blues Brothers - Rubber Biscuit 7"


Atlantic (1978)

"Rubber Biscuit" was the first favorite song I ever had.  I have a book that my parents had gotten for me when I was four years old.  It's one of those books where the kid fills in the blanks about stuff they like.  What's your favorite color? What do you want to be when you grow up? That kind of thing.  In the section that says What is your favorite song?  My answer was "Bow Bow Bow."  That's what I first thought "Rubber Biscuit" was called at my youngest due to the chorus.

It was probably the fast pace and the gibberish lyrics that hooked me as a four year old, but there's still something pretty exciting about this song thirty seven years later.  The band has this irrepressible energy that just exudes through the song. The vocals, while still gibberish, have a melody to them despite their rapid fire delivery that always gets me nodding along.  I can't really explain it, there's just something magical about this song.

The B side on this 7" is "B Movie Box Car Blues."  This wasn't one of my favorites off of Briefcase Full of Blues as a kid, but that's somewhat misleading as I've always loved every single song off that record.  But what I can say is that "B Movie" has grown on me even more over the years.  It's slinky lead guitar riff, story telling vocals and the up tempo instrumental outro are all something to behold.  It's another perfect song in the Blues Brothers catalog.

Unfortunately this, my favorite Blues Brothers song, was never released in any country with a picture sleeve that I was able to find.  I really wish one had been made as it feels a little naked in the collection without one.  It's not alone, of course, and someday I hope it finds a more permanent home in the jukebox currently sitting in my garage that I'm not able to use right now.  

The Blues Brothers - "Rubber Biscuit":

The Blues Brothers - "B Movie Box Car Blues":

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Radiation Risks - Headless Horseman Flexi


Feral Kid (2017)

This is the first time I've been sent a flexi to review since I started up this website.  Right away, that stood out.  Plus, while I can't say I like the artwork, it's definitely colorful and attention grabbing.

I reviewed another Radiation Risks 7" earlier in the year and while I do like the songs on this new flexi more than the older 7", I still can't go so far as to say I like this band.  But I don't dislike them.  It's complicated.  I like the music quite a bit.  It's fast and upbeat with jangly guitar, fun chord progressions and pretty decent hooks.  I find my head bobbing along when I listen to it and in particular I just love the guitar tone they achieved with this recording.  They should bottle that stuff.

By only hang up is that I'm not really partial to the singer.  Though, again, it's a big improvement from the last 7".  I still think the band as a whole would benefit from some more melody in the vocals and a less ferocious delivery.  This singer kind of feels like he's still trying to transition from a hardcore band into whatever Radiation Risks is turning into.  The progression is happening and change is obvious; these are much better songs.  But, i don't think that the band is there yet.  If they truly embraced the pop songs that they're writing, I think they could be great.

Radiation Risks - Headless Horseman Flexi:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Golden Boys - Better Than Good Times LP - White Vinyl


12XU (2017)

It's been five years since the last Golden Boys record.  While I did listen to Dirty Fingernails quite a bit when it first came out in 2012, I can't say it's been one that I've gone back too all that often over the last few years.  When I received an email alerting me that Better Than Good Times had been released, I hesitated for a moment, but decided to take the plunge and order it.  I'm still looking for that blow away album of 2017.  Better Than Good Times isn't it, but it's a pretty solid record and likely an improvement from Dirty Fingernails.

The Golden Boys play a somewhat rustic version of electric guitar rock and roll.  I wouldn't go so far as to say they lean country, but you can hear just a bit of twang and it tinges most of the songs on this record.  Luckily, the songs also have pretty good pop rock hooks that help move things along and keep the album interesting to me.

I think the album is most successful when the band picks up the pace like they do on "Lonely Girls" and the title track "Better Than Good Times."  This is where they start sounding like prime era Goodnight Loving to me, which is always a good thing.  When The Golden Boys slow things down. the songs are still pretty good, but they just don't reach the heights of the quicker ones.  Better Than Good Times is good times, but I'm not sure it's better than good times.  It's kind of the definition of a good, solid record.  A fun listen and one I recommend checking out, but it isn't the the record I'm looking for to take over my best of 2017 list.

The Golden Boys - Better Than Good Times:

Monday, December 4, 2017

Superchunk - Break The Glass 7" - Yellow Vinyl (/290)


Merge (2017)

This is the second 7" Superchunk has released leading up to their new album scheduled for release in February.  Break The Glass was a limited 7" available in two versions, the first was on standard black vinyl, limited to 700 copies.  This one was $15.  The second version, and the one I decided to buy, is on yellow vinyl and was limited to 290 copies.  The yellow vinyl version was also autographed by all four members of the band and was sold for $30.

Now, both price tags are somewhat steep for a 7", but all proceeds from were being donated to Southern Poverty Law Center.  So, I was really just donating to a good cause and getting a limited 7" as a bonus.  I can't say that autographed records are anything that I care all that much about, but having the limited colored vinyl version is, so it didn't take that much thought to snag this version.

The A side of the 7" is "Break The Glass,."  It will also be on the upcoming full length.  All in all it's a great song.  It leans on the upper end of mid tempo with some high pitch lead guitar riffs over the trademark Superchunk fuzz.  The chorus actually drops the energy of the song a bit the first time it's rolled out, but this adds a really cool dynamic to the song.  Plus, things become very loud and triumphant when that chorus is used again towards the end.  

The B side is "Mad World," which according to the liner notes is a Corrosion of Conformity song. I don't know any Corrosion of Conformity songs and this Superchunk version isn't anything that would make me seek out their stuff.  It's louder than your usual Superchunk with gritty/screaming vocals and a pretty basic verse/chorus song structure.  I guess it's OK as a B side novelty, but it's not really the sort of thing I see going back to very often.  But, it is important to me to keep my Superchunk 7" collection complete and "Break The Glass" absolutely has me ready for the new Superchunk album next year.

Superchunk - Break The Glass 7":