Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Absolute Best Records of 2020


You don't need me to tell you that 2020 sucked.  It did, we all know it and we all hope things get better in 2021.

That said, we were lucky in that there were some really great records this year, despite the insanity.  I know for a fact that I bought fewer new albums in 2020 than any prior year.  I know that there are good records that came out that I haven't heard yet.  There are even records on this list that I wasn't able to get the vinyl for yet.  On the docket for sure.

What I can say for certain is that The Suitesixteen would have been my number one record just about any year it would have come out.  I absolutely adore it and have listened to it more than anything else this year by a country mile.  That isn't to say the rest of the top 10 wasn't great, they were.  Headsparks, Custody and Reverse really brought me back to those feelings I had in the mid 90s when I was obsessing about UK punk rock and Boat checked in with an indie rock record as good as anything that's come out in the past five years or so.  

But, The Suitesixteen record is something truly special.  If you get nothing else out of this year, give that record a listen.

01 - The Suitesixteen - Mine Would Be The Sun - Self Released (Listen)
02 - Headsparks - Working Parts - Fixing A Hole (Listen)
03 - Reverse - Empty Spaces - Boss Tuneage/SP Records (Listen)
04 - Boat - Tread Lightly - Magic Marker (Listen)
05 - Custody - II - Brassneck / Waterslide / Combat Rock (Listen)
06 - Diaz Brothers - Diaz Brothers - Boss Tuneage (Listen)
07 - Dan Sartain - Western Hills - Earth Libraries (Listen)
08 - Bob Mould - Blue Hearts - Merge (Listen)
09 - Cloud Nothings - The Black Hole Understands - Self Released (Listen)
10 - Shiner - Schadenfreude - Two Black Eyes (Listen)

11 - Broken Record - I Died Laughing - Snappy Little Numbers
12 - Ultimate Fakebook - The Preserving Machine - Sonic Ritual
13 - Snuff - The Wrath of Toth - 10 Past 12 / Unless You Try 
14 - Brother Kite - Make It Real - Self Released
15 - Quaker Wedding - In Transit - Salinas
16 - Built to Spill - Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston - Ernest Jennings
17 - Spells - Stimulants & Sedatives - Snappy Little Numbers
18 - Outtacontroller - Sure Thing - Alien Snatch
19 - Soundtrack - Music From G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero - Universal/Hasbro
20 - Dinged Up - Mucho Dolor - Snappy Little Numbers 


Friday, December 18, 2020

Joel Paterson - Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar LP


 Ventrella (2018) 

This will be my last post for the year, at least until my annual Best Of that I typically put up on New Year's Eve.  And as usual, I'm going to close out with a new Christmas album.  I've been trying to make sure I buy at least one Christmas album on vinyl every year, to keep that collection growing.  I love Christmas music.  It gets a bad rep sometimes from the repetition of terrible songs, but if you do a deep dive, there is so much fun and rocking music to hear.

I do tend to prioritize old Christmas music, mostly recorded in the 50s and 60s.  To me, that's where the action is.  But every so often something new comes out that is actually good.  This happened in 2017 when Joel Paterson first released Hi-Fi Christmas guitar.  I was immediately taken in by his whirlwind of guitars. My very favorite Christmas album is The Ventures' Christmas Album.  While Joel is not playing surf rock, his record has a similar feel being totally instrumental with timeless Christmas melodies being arranged on guitar.

There's some jazzy tones, some rock and roll and even a couple of songs that border on that classical guitar virtuoso stuff.  Joel can play his ass off, but he never gets too bogged down in the technicalities and keeps the songs fresh and fun to listen to.  It's mostly standards with renditions of songs like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause," "Silver Bells," "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and others of that ilk.  But for me, my favorite on here is the oft overlooked "Mele Kalikimaka."  It's a Hawaiian flavored tune, probably most famously done by Bing Crosby I guess.  But it isn't one that I typically hear around Christmas time unless it's on my Christmas playlist that I keep.  Joel's version hits all of the right notes and maintains the Polynesian flair of the song while showcasing his guitar chops.

I didn't buy it in 2017, because it was only on CD at first.  Luckily it came out on LP the next year, but I didn't actually realize it until we were in the thick of last year's Christmas and there was no way to get a copy delivered before the big day.  Luckily I was well aware this year and planned accordingly.  2020 has been brutal, but my mood brightens when I hear these songs.

Hope everyone has a great holiday and I'll be back on New Year's Eve with The Absolute Best Records of 2020.

Joel Paterson - Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Sam Jayne - 1974-2020

Normally on Wednesdays I would be celebrating Ed Lover Dance Day and write about a hip hop record that I love.  Unfortunately, I'm just not able to do that today as my mind is completely consumed by the news that Sam  Jayne was found dead in his car after being missing for a few days.  Sam's music was so incredibly important to me and even though he hadn't released anything new in a bit, his discography is one that has been present in my life for over twenty five years.

I first heard of Sam Jayne in 1994, likely at the tail end of my junior year of high school.  He made an appearance on two songs on the Beck album One Foot In The Grave.  You have to understand that in 1994, Beck was just about the most important thing in my life.  He opened up a whole world of music and sounds that I had never heard before.  Sam's backing vocals on the songs "Outcome" and "Forcefield" stood out on an album full of standouts and the picture of him in the liner notes (which I have put above) is one of those indelible images of indie rock that will always be burned into my brain.

Sam's backing vocals made me want to explore.  In this pre-internet era I was in while still in high school, I honestly cannot remember how I figured out that Sam had a band called Lync.  I have to assume I read it somewhere, but this is one of those missing pieces of the story that I just can't place.  No matter how I put the pieces together, I bought the Lync album These Are Not Fall Colors.  It's hard to really state the importance of this moment.  Lync was pretty much the first band that I discovered on my own while exploring the new-to-me world of indie rock.  Beck was my gateway, but Lync was the first step I actually took in the direction I wanted to go.

Even today, I am floored by the sounds captured in These Are Not Fall Colors.  It's a whirlwind of a record with jangly guitar chords one minute and thick fuzz the next. Angelic vocals on one song, impassioned hollering a few songs over.  It's really a quintessential indie rock record in my opinion, gathering together disparate sounds, molding them into something new and releasing it back into the world, grinning the whole time.  I don't think I knew that Sam was only two years older than me when I first heard Lync, but it isn't too surprising as he captured feelings of youth and energy that resonated with me so forcefully in that moment.

By the time I bought These Are Not Fall Colors it
was either late 94 or early 95.  Lync was broken up by then, so I never got to see them play.  Their first couple of 7"s were also pretty tough to find.  Today, you just go to Discogs and scoop up the Pigeons or Mhz 7"s with minimal hassle.  But in 1994/1995, you had to dig in stores.  Luckily for me, my buddy Alan had gotten bit by the record collecting bug a few years before I entered the scene.  He had these two 7"s and let me take them off his hands.  It was one of the early instances of hunting and collecting this type of music for my record collection.  It's also one of the earlier memories I have of my friendship with Alan.  The Lync 7"s are some of the most important records in my collection, even if their financial worth to the rest of the world doesn't match the esteem I hold them in.

Around this time, Love As Laughter entered the picture.  I first heard of them when I bought a compilation album called Periscope.  I bought a lot of compilations in these early, halcyon days as it was a good way to discover new bands, but this one was a guaranteed purchase as their was an unreleased Beck song on it.  The Love As Laughter contribution was a song called "Super Christ."  It was upbeat and lo-fi and had a wacky guitar sound that I loved.  I doubt that I knew it was the same guy from Lync the first time I heard it, but just like Lync, Love As Laughter instantly connected with me.

From here I picked up the Love As Laughter cassette Clear Sky = Blue Dye.  I love this album.  It's right up their with These Are Not Fall Colors for me and it captures this perfect energy that few home recordings of the era did.  You can hear the ideas in Sam's head as they poured out of this tape, from the perfect opener of "Cigarette Constellations" to the wacky wordplay of "Zookeeper Vows" to the childlike giddiness of "Pirate Song"  There is so, so much to love about this tape and I haven't even mentioned my favorite song, "The Spokesmodel."

Loud, fuzzy and with unintelligible lyrics, "The Spokesmodel" is one of my favorite songs of the 90s.  What really pushes it over the top are the soaring backing vocals during the chorus.  High pitched "ahhhs" that blast the song into rarefied territory.  With the pounding drums and static filled recording, it's a special, special song to me.  My love for this album also created the bane of my record collecting existence.  The first, self titled Love As Laughter tape.

That first tape is mentioned in the liner notes and in twenty five years I have never been able to find one.  It is the number one record on my want list by a considerable margin and even though I know I will probably never find one to call my own, I always hold out hope that by some miracle, I will finally be able to add it to my collection.  If you ever see one or hear of anyone that has one, please let me know.  It's so very important to me.  My quest for this record also sparked the more recent communications that I've had with Sam over the past few years, but we'll get to that in a little bit.

The next time I as able to get new music from Sam was during a fertile period in 1996 where he released the full length album The Greks Bring Gifts and no less than four new 7"s (not to mention the very excellent split 7" with Ringfinger that came out in 1995, but that one kind of blends into the Greks era for me).  The Greks Bring Gifts was the perfect followup to Clear Sky = Blue Dye.  It was a ramshackle collection of songs and noises, sounding more like a collage of ideas than a proper full length record, but man there is some brilliance in here.  I will always love the song "Uninvited Trumpets" and "High Noon" is a true highlight of these early LAL years.  The 7"s were equally wonderful and confounding with songs, noise, pop and chaos all rolled into one identity.

It was during this time where I was able to see Love As Laughter play a show finally.  They played with a band called Plastique (who had just changed their name to The Seductive) at a place called Meow Mix on Houston Street in NYC.  The show was weird.  Sam was there, he had some drum machines/noise making devices and a guitar and he proceeded to play nothing that I recognized from any of his releases.  It wasn't what I was expecting, but it was certainly memorable.  I went with my friend Joe.  Joe was close friend from high school and early college that I've lost touch with over the years after a falling out that we had that I'm not even totally sure of the reason for.

Joe wrote with me at our college newspaper and we interviewed Sam for it.  Joe took the lead on this one as he was similarly taken with Sam's work and in particular connected with the noisier weirdness whereas I tended to prefer the ones with more traditional song structures.  I am sure I have a copy of the issue with that Sam interview in my attic somewhere, but I don't remember the article at all.  All I remember is sitting with Sam outside of the club and getting crazy answers to the sort of dumb questions freshman year journalism students ask.  He was kind and weird and funny and just seemed like someone from another planet.  The kind of person I was happy to support.

I will admit that the next two Love As Laughter releases are the two I am least familiar with.  When #1 USA came out, I bought it right away, but I didn't form the same type of attachment to it.  Similarly, Destination 2000, the first release for Sub Pop didn't get lodged into my head the same way that the earlier records did.  These records are where Love As Laughter started to transition into an actual band as opposed to the solo Sam Jayne chaos I was used to.  Maybe they just moved on without me and maybe I was just interest in different things now.  Well, Love As Laughter came roaring back into the forefront of my musical life when Sea To Shining Sea was released in 2001.

From the opening "Ba da ba da baaaaaah" gang vocals of "Coast To Coast," Love As Laughter is back, even if they sound nothing like their prior records.  This is a full-fledged indie rock powerhouse.  Sam's vocals and melodies are the catchiest they've ever been and not once during the course of the record am I lamenting the loss of the bedroom fuzz.  They followed this up in 2005 with an album that is even better, Laughter's Fifth.  This is the most consistent of the full band records and in particular the middle chunk of the record ("Survivors" through "Canal Street") is essentially flawless

The last Love As Laughter full length came out in 2008 on Epic/Glacial Pace.  Holy may not have been my favorite album released under the LAL moniker, but it had its moments. Aside from some self released singles, this was the last of Love As Laughter's output.  But, I didn't make any meaningful contact with Sam until a few years later.

Sam was active on Twitter.  Posting absurdities from time to time and at some point, probably around 2014, I reached out to him.  I expressed my admiration of his music and asked him if there was any chance he had another copy of that first cassette kicking around anywhere.  He did not, but he was so kind and genuinely appreciative that someone liked his music.  He also sent me a copy of the CD Thru The Past, Brightly Vol. 1., an extremely difficult to find collection of early Love As Laughter songs.  I would continue to reach out to him over the years, gently prodding him to put those first two tapes on Bandcamp (he never did) or reminding him that the twenty fifth birthday of These Are Not Fall Colors was coming up.

At one point I bought a cassette of Love As Laughter and Lync songs off of eBay.  It was a total homemade deal, but I made MP3s of it and sent them to Sam so he could help me identify the songs.  He spent the time to make a track list for me and helped me identify which songs were on that elusive first tape.  Eventually, kind of out of nowhere, Sam reached out to me and sent me MP3s of that first LAL tape.  It was two long MP3s, one of side A and one of side B with no track listing.

It was such an amazing feeling to be able to hear these songs that had eluded me for so long.  It wasn't a replacement for being able to get my hands on the actual tape, but it was so, so kind of him to send me the songs so I could at least listen to everything.  And really, it is the music that is the most important thing, even though I do like my physical media.

We don't know the circumstances of Sam's death as I write this.  All I know is that Twitter is full of people posting about how they loved and miss him.  I did not know Sam Jayne well.  I couldn't consider myself one of his friends and I can't imagine what the people who are close to him are going through.  But Sam was a hugely important and influential figure in my life.  he's been with me since my first steps into punk and indie and kept popping back up over and over throughout the years.  I adore his bands, I adore the records of his that I have and I'm really sad that Sam is gone.  He leaves a wonderful legacy behind.

And no matter how fruitless the hunt is, I will never, ever give up my search for that first fucking Love As Laughter tape. Thank you Sam.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Zephr - Don't Worry About It LP - Gray Swirl Vinyl



Snappy Little Numbers (2020)

Zephr are definitely playing the sort of punk rock that I like.  It's gruff and has a working class feel to it with melodic chord progressions and wouldn't feel at all out of place as a mid 2000s No Idea release. Not as fast as Off With Their Heads or Dear Landlord, but I feel like Zephr is playing in the same sandbox.  

There are two vocalists, one that carries about three quarters of the record and another that picks up the other quarter.  I'll have to say that I really don't dig the vocal stylings of the second vocalist. He has a strained, higher pitched delivery that sounds painful and doesn't too any favors to the melodic vibe the band has for most of the album.

That said, for the majority of the album, I'm right there - rocking along to the crunchy guitar lines and warm vocals.  It has an air of melancholy to it, much like all of 2020, but it's worth checking out. Particularly as the days get darker earlier and overcast skies are the norm.

Zephr - Don't Worry About It:

Friday, December 11, 2020

Sad Days Indeed - Sad Days Indeed CD



Jukeboss (2006)

Last year I picked up a Sad Days Indeed record that was essentially a lost album that the band had begun recording before they split up in 2008.  I dug that one enough to hunt down their first CD that came out back in 2006.  Luckily I was able to get a nicely priced copy off of Discogs and am happy to report that this CD is just as good as Foral was.

Hailing from Finland, Sad Days Indeed nevertheless seems to take inspiration from the 90s UK melodic scene.  I can't say for certain what the guys in this band listened to, but I can't hear their songs without also hearing echoes of Hooton 3 Car, Broccoli and Leatherface.  Now, I realize that is some absurdly high comparison points and I would be lying if I were to say that Sad Days Indeed is as transcendent as any of those bands.  But I'm hopeful it gives you a touchstone on the sandbox these guys are playing in.

Listening to this record, with killer songs like "Last Supper," "Modern Surf Queens" and "Polewalk," it seems weird that this group never hit my radar back when they were active.  That said, I'm also not in Finland, so I can see how it happened.  Regardless, I'm glad I eventually found them and even though I don't rush out to buy many CDs these days, I'm happy to have both Sad Days Indeed CDs in the collection.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Hieroglyphics - 3rd Eye Vision 3xLP


Hiero Imperium/Fat Beats (2019, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

If you do not already know about my undying love for the Hieroglyphics crew, then you obviously have not been reading anything I have been writing of Wednesdays for the past year plus.  They are my favorite collection of hip hop artists and in 1998, they came together to release their first collective LP, 3rd Eye Vision.

While I cannot say that I like it quite as much as I liked the group's individual releases that came out in the earlier part of the 90s, there are still a slew of triumphant moments over the course of this record.  If anything, it's probably a little too long and could have benefitted from being trimmed down a bit.  I picked this album up on CD right when it came out and was one of the few hip hop releases I purchased at the time.  Honestly I was disappointed in it at first, but over the years it's grown on me greatly.

I think one of the main reasons this record didn't connect with me right away is because I do not like the opening song "You Never Know."  For a Hiero song, I think it has a really weak beat and I'll never understand why it was made the album's opening salvo.  It really not until the album's fourth song "The Who" where things really start to pick up.  This one is a genuine classic with a bouncing beat and excellent lyrical interplay between the various member.

When we get to Del solo cut, "At The Helm," I'm pretty much losing my mind over things at this point.  This song is one of my absolute favorite Del songs from throughout his entire career.  The Domino produced beat is thick with a bass driven funk and Del take full advantage of this canvas displaying his unique lyrical acumen.

The album does cool down a bit from here and while it is a strong sowing overall, particularly on the lyric/vocal side of the coin, the beats are a little more mellow than I am used to from Hieroglyphics.  It's absolutely an album that needs to be in my collection.  I'm just not sure that Hiero really needed to record a triple LPs worth of material back in the day.

Hieroglyphics - "At The Helm":

Hieroglyphics - "The Who":

Monday, December 7, 2020

The Blues Brothers - Made In America LP - 40 Years Old


Atlantic (1981)

On December 5th, 1980 the third and final Blues Brothers album was released (not counting best ofs and various compilations). This past Saturday marked 40 years since its release and I thought this was an appropriate time to write a little bit about this record.  I did purchase this LP this year, I wanted to upgrade my existing copy so I picked up one from eBay that was still sealed (this record was a Super Saver/cutout bin stalwart). It sounds so great and I'm happy to be able to replace the copy I had picked up in the early 90s.

Made In America is sort of the forgotten Blues Brothers album.  It's never been reissued.  None of the songs on it were 'hits' and it's not really ever discussed with the same sort of reverence most fans have for Briefcase Full of Blues or for the movie.  Even me, I didn't have this record as a little kid.  I had Briefcase, the soundtrack and Best of The Blues Brothers.  That best of, released in 1981, did contain one track off of Made In America, so "Going Back To Miami" is absolutely the song on here I've spent the most time with.

I probably got my first copy of this album on CD when I was a young teenager.  I liked it, but it didn't foster the same sort of emotional connection that I felt for the other albums at the time.  But over the years I developed a much deeper appreciation for this record and today I love it just about as much as the others.  

Side A is particularly great.  Starting off with "Soul Finger" as an introduction (never a real replacement for "Can't Turn You Loose," but still a good track to back Elwood's wacky intro) the album blasts through several great tracks.  "Who's Making Love" is a rousing rendition of the Johnnie Taylor classic with the horn section giving it that extra gusto to really drive things home.  Then we move on to "Do You Love Me." This is probably one of the lesser tracks on the album and I feel like the band doesn't really sink their teeth into it the way that they do with some lesser known songs.

They close out side A with something of a trilogy of songs.  First up is "Guilty." This is a slower song sung by Jake that is essentially supposed to be the "Shotgun Blues" of this record.  It lays down a story about loss, depression and drug use that is slightly marred by the audience wildly cheering the song's mention of cocaine.  I think they would have been more subdued had they known the tragic fate awaiting John Belushi just a couple of years later.  

After pleading 'guilty,' we move to the next phase of law and order with the "Perry Mason Theme." This is mostly an instrumental with a little Elwood dialog about needing to find Jake a lawyer and some unnecessary humming (?) along with the melody of the song.  It is a little goofy, but it still makes for a nice transition into "Riot In Cell Block Number Nine."  This is a real highlight of the record telling a slow moving, edgy story about a prison break.  I love the way the song builds into each chorus and the the climax provides a nice break into the B side of this album.

While not as strong as side A, side B does have its moments.  The inclusion of "Green Onions" as yet another instrumental with Elwood talking over it is completely unneeded at this point.  That makes three tracks like this on the album and while I like the "Green Onions" tune just as much as the next guy, it's just not needed on an album that already has "Soul Finger" and the "Perry Mason Theme."  "I Ain't Got You" is great with the start/stop music background over which Jake breaks down all of the things he does have, but are essentially meaningless without the person he cares about.  "From The Bottom" is lyrically sparse, but has a fun repetitious beat to it.

Lastly is album closer "Going Back To Miami." This is my favorite song on the album, though I'll never know if it is because it is legitimately the best, or if it is because it's the one song on the record I've been listening to since I was a kid due to its inclusion on the aforementioned Best Of. Regardless, it's a high octane, horn fueled blast of a song with one of the better closing breakdowns that I've every heard.

I wish that Made In America was remembered more fondly than it is.  While it is admittedly not quite on the same level as their two prior records, there's a lot to love over the course of the album.  I wish I had gotten it much younger, so I could have had the time to connect the same sort of nostalgic emotions to it as I did the others, but forty years later, it really is a hell of a record that deserves to be revisited.

The Blues Brothers - Made In America (YouTube full album playlist):

Friday, December 4, 2020

Music From Transformers LP - Purple & Silver Vinyl


Sony/Enjoy The Toons/Hasbro (2018)

I ended up being so enthralled with the GI Joe soundtrack that I immediately went about finding the Transformers soundtrack that was released a few years ago.  When it came out, I had half heartedly tried to buy a copy then, but it was released in different variants at different retailers and I wasn't able to ever find a copy in stock.  Eventually it just faded into the background.

I was able to locate a copy and an extremely reasonable price (with free shipping to boot) on eBay.  I guess at some point they did a second pressing and this version in Megatron colors of Silver and Purple was part of that press.  I really wanted to like this just as much as the G.I. Joe version, but Transformers comes up a little short.

As soon as I got the LP, I felt like this was a lower budget release.  Even though this album is a gatefold, the artwork itself seems rough and lacks the sharpness of the G.I. Joe one.  Once I started listening to it, I was a little bummed that the opening theme was the version with the vocals.  I wish an instrumental only version existed and they used it the same way they did on G.I. Joe album.  As I went through the album, I also noticed that the score for Transformers is much more low key than the G.I. Joe one.  There's a lot of slower moments and it doesn't have the same sort of upbeat energy that the Joe soundtrack has.

I am still glad I picked this up, though I probably won't listen to it quite as much.  It would be cool if more 80s cartoon soundtracks followed.  I know that I would scoop up Voltron, He Man and Thundercats right away if they were every made available.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Saafir - Boxcar Sessions 2xLP


 Qwest (1994)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for twenty-five plus years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

While I was never steeped in the lore of Saafir and hadn't listened to his records until very recently, I have been aware of him since 1994.  He made a guest appearance on the Casual record Fear Itself.  I always dug his verse, even though it was a little weird, but never really looked into him much after that.  I was completely unaware that this guest spot launched a beef that ended up as one of the more famous rap battles of all time.  I have since listened to it, and while it's clear to me that Casual is miles ahead, Saafir certainly has skill.

Saafir's debut album doesn't necessarily sound like a Hieroglyphics album, but you can definitely tell that Saafir's crew, Hobo Junction, was heading down a similar path.  There are innovative beats and samples throughout the album and when combined with Saafir's erratic, but very distinct flow, it does create moments of magic.

I could probably do with the record being a little shorter.  As a double LP it starts to feel a little bloated towards the end, but there are more than enough standout tracks to make this one worth adding to the collection.

Saafir - Boxcar Sessions (YouTube Music full album playlist):