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NBA Developmental League: Iowa Energy
The Iowa Energy franchise is now 10 years old. I made it to only one game this season, but the Energy are one of my favorite local experiences. It is hard to say why- as their competition mimics the NBA in that it often seems like they are only playing for the 4th Quarter and the first 3 quarters are superfluous. However, they keep things high paced with plenty of music and excitement.

Th NBADL isn't really analogous with minor league baseball. Although the NBADL has worked on it, and touts a large percentage of players who appeared in NBADL games, it's hard to say that you will see a future star.

Early in the Energy story, they were loosely affiliated with the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards. As time went on, they developed into a farm team for the Memphis Grizzlies. Next year, the NBADL expands, and they will be a farm team for the more geographically logical Minnesota Timberwolves.

The current setup of a NBADL team is that they usually have 2 or 3 young players who were just drafted. This ensures that they get plenty of playing time, gain experience and they often travel frequently back and forth to the mother team. Also, there are generally one or more of a journeyman-style player, a local college hero, and a variety of players who are NBA longshots but are using the NBADL to stay in shape. Perhaps they did not go to a major college, or just perhaps they just missed the cut.

NBA rosters are limited, so most of these players will not get the call up. That said, the NBADL provides a great spot to grab someone when an injury comes up, as well as a place for rehabilitating the injured player. Also, if nothing else, it gives these players a chance to get paid for playing basketball, and they don't have to go overseas like many do.

For the Iowa Energy, that rookie is Jarell Martin who was drafted 25th overall in 2015. Martin clearly was the best player on the court with 32 points and 6 rebounds. Troy Williams also has a contract with the Grizzlies, but did not play signifcant time in the game I saw.

The current Energy lineup features Wes Washpun, a Guard who was a star at Northern Iowa, Terry Whisnant, a guard from East Carolina. Amir Williams, a 6-11 center from Ohio State.

Then there are those journeymen who lead the team. Cartier Martin was a star at Kansas State a decade ago and has had a few stints in Iowa. He has played in 243 NBA games in that time, most significantly with the Wasington Wizards and the Atlanta Hawks. Forward Ja-Kar Sampson was named to the NBADL all-star team. He was a star for St John's, and has started in 50 games for the Philadelphia 76ers and started 22 games for the Denver Nuggets.

Book Review: Harry Truman's Big Adventure

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road TripHarry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you look at my bookshelf, there’s an inordinate amount of books about Harry Truman (Plain Speaking, Pietruszka’s 1948, American Gunfight, Killing the Rising Sun). Okay, so some people read about vampires, some read about gunslingers. I read about Harry.

Like Algeo’s other books, he finds another great lost historical nugget. After Ike was sworn in and Harry returned to independence, he and Bess decided to take a road trip to Washington DC. It seems unlikely, even in the 1950s, that Truman could travel without being recognized, and despite Bess’s advice to the same, Harry thought he would give it a try. Of course, he was wrong. Every stop he made created a minor buzz. There’s also a funny story about how he got pulled over by a Pennsylvania cop. This was before social media, so Truman may have had some peace, but every where he showed up, it quickly made it to the press.

Another interesting point to this book was that Truman did not receive a Presidential pension. This probably didn’t worry people as rich as Hoover, or with a Supreme Court job like Taft, private as Coolidge, or those who had passed on in office. This was an issue for Truman. Truman thought it was important to keep the prestige of the office, which solves what modern Presidents would have done- taking symbolic Chairboard positions and lecturing for big bucks. Truman liked to keep an office in Independence and respond to correspondence, which was not cheap.
This is a pretty quick book, and can be read in one or two settings if so inclined. Algeo fills the book out by taking the same route and reporting what he saw. It’s a charming contrast between vacationing in the 50s/60s and modern day. For those like me, we have heard those stories from our parents and grandparents, and that will be soon lost. Algeo meets some of those who met Truman or their descendants.

Along the way, he does what he does best, which is pepper in random trivia. In this case, mostly centering around the interstate system and the hotel/entertainment industry and how it has changed. There’s also plenty of local history in the towns he visited. I eat that stuff up, and if that is the type of book you are interested in, it really is a great book. It is short enough for re-reading, but long enough that you get your money’s worth.

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Book Review: FDR - The War President

FDR: The War President, 1940-1943: A HistoryFDR: The War President, 1940-1943: A History by Kenneth Sydney Davis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kenneth S Davis (not to be confused with the best selling historian Kenneth C Davis) made his life work chronicling the life of Franklin Roosevelt. He did this in four lengthy volumes, passing away before completing the fifth and final chapter of the FDR story. I do not know if these books are still in print, as I found this at Half Price Books. Needless to say, each book stands independently and could be read in order, but it isn't necessary. This one does seem to cover an aspect of FDRs life that to me would make this the most interesting sounding one.

Ostensibly, I am writing this review to recommend this book. The short synopsis is you are either going to be interested in reading a 800 page book about FDR or you are not (and you are probably not). That said, if you are in that slim category, then this is pretty great.

This book covers FDR in an almost weekly detail of everything that happened in this time frame. Although this book can be very dense, there are times when it is quite readable.

What makes this book fascinating is the chronological order. We take a look at things from the rear view as a series of logical dates, but life does not work that way.

For example, Pearl Harbor is a very obvious starting point to America's involvement in WW2, but until that point, it was a major decision. We were definitely leaning that way. Hitler was running over Europe and headed to Britain. U-Boats were sinking passenger ships that Americans were traveling on. There were moments that made the issue urgent. FDR for whatever reason (indecision, health, slowness) does not get us involved in the war during this time. Granted, there is a very vocal group of anti-War sentiment, headed by Charles Lindburgh and America First. This is a difficult decision. Pearl Harbor happens, and America backs the decision, but to that point, there was no obvious answer.

What FDR does is genius. The Lend/lease act is a brilliant maneuver that gets American supplies and weapons to the UK and Russia. It also gets our wartime manufacturing started, which was crippled by legality, which is very important, as it would not been nearly as effective if we started from scratch on December 8, 1941.

FDR makes tough decisions in this time, and it is universally held that he sells out the New Deal for corporate profits. Indeed, corporations made a lot of money on wartime efforts. It's a problem Davis and liberals struggle with. That said, it's clear FDR did the things that made the War effort successful. If he did not take the actions that he took, and appeased the Henry Fords and others, it's unlikely production would have met the stringent requirements needed to be a success. It's impossible to think anyone would have managed that tightrope of making Big Business happy while roping them in to line to put the country's interests first. It's doubtful this would have been something Wendall Wilkie on the right or Henry Wallace on the left could have managed.

Besides FDR, this book does an amazing job of short biographies of the major players of this time. Wilkie, Wallace, Churchill, Stalin, Eisenhower, Vinegar Joe Stillwell, Chaing Kai-Shek, Charles DeGaulle, George Marshall and many others are presented in full, and in complete detail. I gained renewed appreciation for Ike and Churchill. Churchill for going toe to toe with Stalin, and Ike for being a military genius both in terms of military strategy and bringing decison makers together.

It is interesting the dynamic caused by France. FDR does not seem to like or trust DeGaulle, and often prefers to try to work with the Vichy French government. This is tricky as the Vichy French don't always have the best (Allied) intentions for the country. As the Allies re-take Africa and move into France, it becomes tricky as the Allies generally don't like DeGaulle, but it becomes clear the Vichy French still have Nazi sympathies. Again, this all works out, but is a tightrope.

In Asia, the Allies need support from the British territories, but there are some ironies inherent. The battle is against Japanese imperial rule, but makes it hard to explain with British rule in India and Burma, as well as French and Dutch rule in Indochina. It is clear that Britain does not want to give up rule in India, but the issue is moving forward. FDR needs those soldiers to prevent further Japanese moves as well as being able to transport supplies to the Allies, but he also needs to keep Churchill happy, which means he can't be too overt for Indian independence.

We get to see the geneis of the drawing board for D-Day and the invasion of Africa. Again, this is not an obvious idea, and has many potential drawbacks; plus, there's a lot of moving parts. How many soldiers are the British willing to supply? Will the timing be appropriate to the Russian needs? How will the invasion of North Africa affect French/British relations. D-Day is incredibly risky with its secrecy but also in terms of timing, manpower and execution.

The book ends with a musing on FDR and the holocaust. It is clear that FDR knew the Holocaust was happening, but his reaction is to beat Germany as swiftly as possible. Could he have done more? Davis says yes. The Holocaust, once it appeared verified, makes little to no appearance in the American press. It is also largely categorized as an issue that only is of interest to Jewish Americans- a marginal, ethnic issue. FDR surely could have done more. That said, Davis does make FDRs case as in other parts of the book, FDR was singular in wanting to beat Germany, but also concerned with keeping a coalition, and thinking America was too anti-Semitic to get behind this issue, and so in his mind, beating Germany was his priority.

This was a fascinating biography of these years,and despite the dense size of the book, the multiple individuals and storylines, the large amount of time talking about the bureaucratic workings, it was still pretty readable. I gained a deeper appreciation of FDR, although at the same time, it's clear he is still just a man. The weekly analysis gives a better appreciation of how things developed. The biographical asides were solid and gave a good look at the supporting cast. For a biography of this type , it doesn't get much better.

I knew a lot about FDR and WW2, but I pulled so much new info from this book.

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Book Review: Under the Big Black Sun
Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. PunkUnder the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Instead of a John Doe book, this is set up as John Doe curating a book about the LA punk scene. The stated objective of the book is that the Los Angeles punk scene of the late 70s doesn’t get enough respect and attention in comparison to the London and New York scenes.
I admire working towards that end, although for me, it’s impossible to beat the UK and NYC for depth and quality, as well as diversity. Still, LA is very important. For starters, Doe’s band X is despite many plaudits, still underappreciated. As is so many of the bands that former the LA scene- the Go-Gos, Fear, TSOL, the Weirdos, the Dickies, the Germs- and there is a wealth of diversity and thought- Black Randy and the Metro Squad, the Blasters, the Bags, the Polecats, the Zeros, the Plugz, the Screamers and many more.
The book are short pieces –about 20 or so from 15 of the scene’s members- musicians, journalists, film makers. Billie Joe Armstrong with the introduction, and pieces written by Henry Rollins, Exene Cevenka, and more. The best in my opinion were the ones written by Doe, and Jane Weidlin and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Gos. They really captured that period of youth where you discover others with the same tastes as you, and start making towards a scene, capturing the energy and the lack of money, no car, dead end jobs but also as the scene evolves over time. I was very inspired to think of my teenage years and early 20s and surely others will be reminded of their local scenes. Maybe not everyone we knew ended up on MTV, but we were inspired and created and made the scene in our lives.
Mike Watt has an excellent piece which is a fitting tribute to D Boon but also captures that feeling of being a lonely outsider and is written in the captifying way of ‘wattspeak” like only he can. El Vez (and others) pointed out the openness of the scene and that it was not just a white male scene, but everyone was equal, and the scene was accepting of women, gays, Latinos and everyone.
I found Dave Alvin’s piece worthwhile in that it argues over what punk is. If punk is ‘do what you love no matter what’ then the Blasters were indeed punk; but if punk is a haircut or a uniform , his band did not fit in. The Blasters shared stages with acts as diverse as Queen, Fear, Los Lobos, Bo Diddley, and Dwight Yoakam. It was cool that Lee Ving had the band’s back, and that their rockabilly-influenced sound fit in a scene where they did not sound like anyone else. I also really appreciated Jack Grisham’s piece. Most of the book follows the same thread- there was this magical group of outsiders who came together to form art, then hardcore came in, hard drugs were introduced, the scene was violent and testosterone driven. Grisham offers a great rebuttal on what drove bands like TSOL and others to do what they did. They were coming into a scene that had become the establishment it once railed against.
Journalist Kristine McKenna and Doe end the book with two pieces that sum up the chapters before. McKenna is a great writer, though I think she is a bit off with postulating that the scene wouldn’t have been created in world of social media. This to me hits a bit too much “Get off my lawn” for me. I get her point, but scenes involve. Now, there are blogs, sites like Bandcamp, kickstarter campaigns, guerilla marketing, and people across the world with similar tastes can connect, and artists like car Seat Headrest can go from home recordings to national stardom without leaving the bedroom. Her other contention borders on the “youth is wasted on the young” meme, which is mostly true. Without being ageist, many of her points are valid. The young have the time and energy and drive, before worrying about bills and families set in, and other motivations drive decisions. Another point made is that the scene once rebellious and considered something the mainstream would ridicule turned into something that corporations like record labels and MTV embraced because they saw financial implications. What was pure art was now being tinged by the greed of Capitalism. Doe ties it all together, capturing the points where the scene moved from a collection of creative souls to where it loses the plot- Go Gos Top 10 success, X’s major label signing and national tour, Darby Crash’s death. These things led to the scene no longer being this pure uncorrupted thing.
For me, this book was really powerful, and reminded me so much of my younger years and “the scene”, and I think friends of mine would say the same. Granted, we may not have the level of fame, but the scene for us was just as important to shaping our lives. To McKenna’s point, it was a time that you could get beat up for the way you looked, a nostalgia that the alt-right apparently wants to bring back. When I look at the reviews, they seem mixed. I think it may help that I know these bands very well. For me, this book was perfect for what Doe wanted to accomplish.

I would be remiss if I didn’t end this review with a glowing appreciation of my local library. In the last year or so , they have brought in not only this book, but a bunch of significant music biographies- Unfaithful Music, Porcelain, Trouble Boys, How Music Works as well as this book. Not to mention a lot of other cool books like Richard Zacks’ Mark Twain book. This is an amazing selection that I doubt my Big Box store can compete with. Way to go local library!

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The 90s weren't all that bad #33- Bash & Pop
In rock music, the coolest dude is usually the lead singer aka the front man. But throughout rock's history, there has been the cool sideman. The guy who isn't the main voaclist, but exudes cool rock image.

It's Keith Richards, of course as the godfather, but you know the lineage. Johnny Thunders, Jimmy Page, Mick Ronson, Ronnie Lane, Joe Perry, Ace Frehley, Steve Stevens, Randy Rhodes, Brian May, Nancy Wilson, Peter Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott, Paul Simonon and many more that I surely forget. In more recent years, that list would surely include people like Izzy Stradlin, Johnny Marr, John Fruiscante, Dave Navarro and Kim Gordon.

I am talking less of the virtuosos- Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan, Flea, Buckethead- though they certainly qualify, but more of the image, so Sid Vicious.

In which case, Tommy Stinson is on the short list of rock n roll cool.

By weird ironic turns and arithmetic, Stinson was in Guns N Rose longer than he was in the Replacements, and he was longer in Guns N Roses than everybody in that band save Axl and Use Your Illusion alumn keyboardist Dizzy Reed.

The Replacements legacy was firm in the 90s, and if anything is more cemented now. Like the Pixies, it's possible that younger generations will know their songs more than mine. I Will Dare, Left of the Dial, B*stards of Young, Kiss me on the Bus, Alex Chilton

Trouble Boys was one of the most highly acclaimed music biographies of last year. By accounts I have seen, the reunion tour was a success. Even Paul Westerberg's 2016 project with Juliana Hatfield called the I Don't Cares (while not widely reviewed, where it was reviewed) it got high marks.

The 90's aren't a fond time for the Replacements. 1989's Dont Tell a Soul and 1990's All Shook Down were well received by all aspects of the rock press. (DTaS is a very good album, even if it is "polished") . Like many "new Dylan's" Westerberg was dubbed the next can't miss star, and at the time, everyone predicted many years of commercial and critical acclaim for him. That of course, didn't happen. 93's 14 Songs was generally well-liked if not universally loved, but the years that followed were marred by subpar material, then label issue, then Westerberg finally going off and doing what he damned well pleased. Westerberg did get a hit single with "Dyslexic Heart" which still gets played on Adult Alternative stations and is part of 90s Nostalgia. Stinson formed a band called Perfect, but that band had limited success, before he got a better paying gig in Axl's Army. He also had obvious and not so obvious gigs with Soul Asylum, Frank Black, and playing on Puff daddy's "All About the Benjamins" remix.

But for a brief moment, it did look like the Mats would be successful in the post-Nevermind world. Chris Mars and even Slim Dunlap had albums on the larger indie labels.

Stinson went away and made his own noise on the wonderfully titled "Friday Night is Killing Me". It wasn't quite a success, given the fact I eventually picked it up from the cutout bin. Still, in the 90s, everyone got a major label chance.

FNiKm is a pretty good, if not great album. It is very much what you would expect. Yes, it probably would be a better record with Westerberg, but it's worthwhile. Allmusic gives it a terrible two and half star review, though I suspect it would fare better these days. Removed from any expectation as being the next Mats album, it's a great Mats-style, Faces-type bar band record. It would fit well on the shelf with Keef's "Talk is Cheap" and Izzy Stradlin's first Juju Hounds record.

And now Bash & Pop is back for the second record after almost 25 years. The band is different (the two Foley Brothers he collaborated with have passed away) and that record had contributions from members of Wire Train and Tom Pettys' Heartbreakers. The new band retains the sound and come from bands as diverse as The Mighty Might Bosstones, Screeching Weasel, North Mississippi All Stars and Stinson-era GnR.

Initial reviews are very positive, and the fact that the band was signed by Fat Possum Records another good harbinger.

Book Review: Dead Presidents

Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation's LeadersDead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation's Leaders by Brady Carlson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not to be confused with the 90s film by the Hughes Brothers, this is literally the dead heads of state. It’s seemingly obvious that this book wouldn’t exist without Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation. Carlson makes the trip to see the gravesite of every past President and commentary about them. I have recently rekindled an idea that I want to visit every Presidential home myself (I am at 11, I believe), so this just got me even more excited to do that.
So this book means Road Trip, but also a lot of fun trivia. It starts with Washington and the issue facing the country of how do you fete the former leader. From there, he groups up Presidents by similarity not chronologically, which probably creates a better read.

Worthwhile trivia includes:
- The John Adams/Thomas Jefferson deaths on July 4
- Millard Fillmore is in the same cemetery as Rick James
- The Taft stuck in a bathtub story was probably made up
- Rutherford Hayes started the idea of Presidential libraries, also huge in Paraguay
- Presidential libraries have escalated things over the years, such as animatronic LBJ
- How do you deal with Watergate when you’re the Nixon library
- How do you deal with Sally Hemmings when you’re the Jefferson estate
- The Mt McKinley naming controversy
- Presidential offspring with special appreciation for Alice Roosevelt Longsworth
- What happens when you are a former President who dies and no likes you because you ended up being a Confederate sympathizer (Pierce) or were unpopular at or very soon after your death (Buchanan, Harding)
- The sport of Hooverball
- How Dallas has struggled with the JFK legacy
- The annual reunion of Presidential descendants in Missouri
All of this and I am surely leaving stuff out. This is the kind of stuff I eat up, so if you like that too, it is well recommended. It’s a light read, quick and fairly short. Sarah Vowell, obviously comes to mind, but the tone for the book is probably more in line with Confederates in the Attic than Vowell’s work.

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(no subject)
As we put a great year in records behind us for 2016, we look forward to some promising discs of 2017.

Piano Magic are a collective fronted by Glen Johnson based in England and France. Wikipedia calls them "ambient pop", which is probably about right. 20 years ago, this would be called the 4AD sound (the band indeed did record 2 records for that seminal label), for lack of a better description. To me, descriptions to Dead Can Dance and the Durutti Column are apt, and other artists like that who offer more than a three minute pop song. The music is atmospheric, the vocals and lyrics intimate. Sometimes haunted. Sometimes they make you want to dance. Sometimes folk, sometimes guitar rock, sometimes what they used to call slowcore.

I have a soft spot for the band as Glen was active on LiveJournal back when people did that, and had a couple of conversations with him. (Now, the only people who use LJ are you, me and George RR Martin, but it used to be a thing). Even still, I think the man is an absolute musical genius, and you don't have to take my word for it, look at the four and four-plus star reviews on Allmusic.

Closure is their final album as the title alludes, and it comes out this week. I think it is the type of music all my blog's readers (all five of you) like, so it is worth checking out.

I am sure Glen will not sit still. he has done more projects over the years, and has a Marc Almond-esque quality in taking on projects that might not be commercially obvious but push artistic boundaries.

Of note, cellist Audrey Riley plays on this record. I know very little about Audrey personally, but I have read liner notes over the years, and suspect she has probably played on more of my favorite records than any performer. The list includes: Strangeways here We Come, Tender Prey, Black Holes and Revelations, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Everybodys Got One. She has credits that include everyone: Style Council, Foo Fighters, Swans, Marc Almond, Coldplay, Dave Matthews,the Orb, Catherine Wheel, the Sundays, the Cure, Lush , New Order, Coil, Peter Murphy, the Communards, Barry Adamson, Gavin Bryars, Dubstar, Feeder and many more. You probably have a half-dozen or more albums in your collection with her name on it.

Anyway, Closure looks to be well worth it based on the reviews I have read. "I left you twice, not once" has made it to the YouTubes and it's a strong single, so check it out.

Al Bedsitter's 20 Best Albums of 2016 (3 of 3) It's time that we began to laugh and cry about it all

Cullen Omori  New Misery (Sub Pop)  I kind of feel sorry for Cullen.  The Smith Westerns broke up, and by rights, the frontman’s debut album should be well feted.  Instead, Big Indie is all agog over Whitney- a band featuring the Smith Westerns guitarist and drummer.  I am not saying Whitney is bad.  They have some great songs, but Big Indie loves them (Now, it’s possible Big Indie has never listened to Canned Heat, so this band may be a revelation).  Omori, meanwhile had an album that should be on top of those same lists.  Drawing from his previous band’s sound, deeply rooted in T Rextacy.  Cullen also has his other influences proudly on his sleeves (80s synthpop a la OMD, and 90s Britpop specifically Spirtualized).  I would probably have included the album in my Top 20 for “Cinnamon” alone, but the rest of the album is pretty strong as well.

Parquet Courts Human Performance (Rough Trade)- I have had these guys on my radar, but this is the album that won me over.  I sort of pigeonholed them with other Brooklyn bands.  A lot of the best bands in recent history are chameleons, and that’s certainly the case here.  To me, they are at the best when they are playing nth Generation Velvet Underground.  To me, more than the Velvets ( though “Berlin got Blurry” seems pretty obvious) it’s the immediate descendants that they remind me of –  Modern lovers, ’77 Talking Heads, even maybe some Television and early Yo La Tengo.  Still, it works to great effect.  Big Indie loved this album, but it’s hard to argue, when we look back at the decade, this will be one of indie rock’s finest moments.

Pixies Head Carrier (Pixies)-  This one is a tough one to consider.  For starters, do you compare it to the Pixies, to Frank Black’s work (as he said he is only interested in the Pixies and no other projects) or against the rest of the records of 2016.  The reunion album Indie Cindy was panned, but most rightfully so.  Head carrier is a bit harder to define.  More jeers than cheers from Big Indie, but it did get favorable reviews from Mojo and Luke Haines proclaimed “Pixies are back”.  For me, it’s a good album with a bunch of good songs.  That means there’s a handful of other albums that probably have as much right to be on my Top 20 as this.  Still, I do think this is the right choice and I am not overcompensating for past performance (at least not too much).  Indeed, the Smiths, Clash, Nirvana, etc would have eventually had subpar records.  One big win is the addition of Paz Lenchatin, who after some attempts, feels like the missing piece to replace Kim Deal.  The weakest part is Black, who has since “Bam Thwok” can’t seem to find the formula for Debaser –style rockers and so here are a couple of attempts like “Um Chagga lagga” for nonsense shouting.  The record ultimately works because of Joey Santiago, who in 2016 is a better Pixies-inspired guitarist than anyone who has come since.  The album works best at its heartfelt- the ostensible apology to Kim- the Paz sang “All I think about now” and the classic sounding “Might as well be gone”

Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression (Concord/Loma Vista) – Whats’s striking about Iggy’s latest is the realization of what an unlikely pop star he is, and almost a half century later, he’s had a career that is as lengthy and worthwhile than almost anyone.  The secret being that he (almost) always finds the right collaborator (Bowie, of course, but also the Ashetons, James Williamson, David Was, Eric Schermerhorn to name a few).  In hindsight, Josh Homme is the perfect collaborator.  Iggy has made as satisfying as an album as he has made in 20 years (though I do like some along the way).  Ironically, I feel Iggy almost always made better records when he was using intellect as opposed to being big dumb and loud.  PPD is a smart record, even when the lyrics are puerile.  For me the only misstep here is the big loud and dumb “Vulture”.  The album has been compared to his Berlin albums of 40 years ago, which is seemingly too tall of an order for any Pop album, but a strong argument can be made.  Then  after all of that, Pop ends with “Paraguay” an all time classic where Iggy sets himself as the punkest 70 year old on the planet.

Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool (XL) In a year of much loved recordings, there were few albums Big Indie loved more than this one.  It was a weird release- the band deleting their online presence, the songs listed alphabetically, no prior fanfare leading up to its release date.  It feels like an ‘odds and sods’ collection to me.  Indeed, diehard Radiohead fans knew some of these lyrics and song bits already from earlier sessions.  Even the most casual fan recognizing “True Love Waits” from the band’s 2001 official live release.   To me, it’s a disadvantage to have songs that sound like they belong to Kid A, along more recent sounding Radiohead, with a couple of soundscapes that sound like they may have originated as a Thom Yorke solo piece but given added orchestration.  To me, it doesn’t make for the short list of the band’s best album, though the songs themselves are good. 

Suede Night Thoughts (Rhino/Suede)- There was a point in time where Suede could do no wrong from ’93 to ’96, which of course includes their classic Dog Man Star but an immaculate set of singles and B-sides collected on Sci-Fi Lullabies.  Since reuniting in 2010, the band seems to be conscious of not straying too far from that era of the band’s sound.  In some terms frustrating (in that the best reunions nod to the past and move forward.  Think Echo & the Bunnymen among others).  Night Thoughts would likely be a better album if it took a few chances.  Still, it does capture what made the band so great in the first place.  It also improves on 2013s comeback disc Bloodsports by offering songs that can surely stand by the band’s best with no fear, even if it doesn’t improve on them.

The Thermals  We Disappear (Saddle Creek Records/The Thermals)- Seven albums in, these guys aren’t going to remain the Big Indie faves they once were.  What makes the Thermals so great despite what seems a simplistic formula is that they always deliver.  Though some albums certainly are better, they haven’t made a total clunker yet.  Early on, this album offers “The Great Dying” which offers a different vision for the band, but it’s an exception.  Most of the record follows the anthemic lo-fi punk we’ve come to expect.  With a title like “Hey You” it sounds like they might be out of ideas,  but it rises above its title, and “If We Don’t Die Today” and “My Heart Went Cold” fit the model of great Thermals rockers.

Al Bedsitter's 20 Best Albums of 2016 (Part 2 of 3): Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?

Brian Fallon Painkillers (Virgin/Island EMI)One of my favorite bands of the last 20 years is the Gaslight Anthem.  Born out of a love for the Clash, Live at Folsolm Prison, and the Boss, they came on the scene as an heir to Social Distortion, however after five albums, they have evolved closer to Bon Jovi style stadium rock.  I wondered aloud what the fix would be, and here it is.  Fallon has released a solo album, that is intimate and unplugged in a metaphorical sense if not an actual one.  It his strongest and most consistent work in awhile.  If you weren’t a fan before, the lyrical references to Steve McQueen, Marianne Faithful and Leonard Cohen may still annoy you.  However, I still think it’s worth checking out.  For me, he cements his spot as a vital singer-songwriter here, and maybe nudges a bit closer to his heroes. 

Glint  Inverter (Votiv)  Glint is mainly the brainchild of New York artist Jase Blankfort.  This is a genre- electronic-based altrock (I’ve heard it called indietronica) that Big Indie avoids, but generally does well with large audiences (Muse, Killers, MGMT , Hot Chip, etc).  Big anthemic songs with synth and big guitars- for me, Muse is the obvious touchpoint.  Glint nails that sound perfectly on “Guided”, which as with other tracks here would be perfect on altrock radio.  Still, anyone can put together one great single, and the rest of the album is satisfyingly consistent.  I don’t know that this album has garnered enough listens to make the big break, but hopefully success is right around the corner.

PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project (Vagrant)- A challenging record that got mixed reviews.  Personally, it blows my mind away.  Many in Big Indie had a problem that it was not a traditional record like Stories from the Sea… or even Uh Huh Her or the equally rousing Let England Shake.  They criticized her journal entries set to music as not being artistic enough.  They were wrong.  This album of course is justified as an heir to Patti Smith, but equally, it’s a great noisy shambolic masterpiece that is heir to the greatest of all raw rock bands- The Stooges, the Birthday Party, and an early 90s three piece named PJ Harvey.  I think this is an amazing end to end listen, and based on that, easily makes the short list for my favorite album of the year.

Mitski Puberty 2  (Dead Oceans)- This Brooklyn based singer songwriter  was one of my biggest finds this year.  Fortunately, I found her on my own, and not due to the influence of Big Indie.  (Big Indie loves her, which I don’t have a problem with.  The probem I have with Big Indie is that as much music as comes through them, they should be pushing Mitski and a dozen artists like her, not just her).  It’s interesting to see Big Indie try to classify her- is she anti-folk, the new PJ Harvey or Pixies-influenced noise.  Well, she’s all of that.  If anything, the short songs and blasts of styles reminds me of mid90s indie heroes Erics Trip.  Looking forward to what her future holds.

Moby and the Void Pacific Choir- These Systems are Failing(Little Idiot/Mute)  Twenty years ago, Moby made a “hard rock” album that despite some big fans (Axl Rose and Bono, to name two) became a punchline.  That album Animal Rights was considered a career destroyer.  It didn’t of course.  Moby not only was critically acclaimed, he finally reached Top 40 success.  The lackluster Hotel ended the ride, though age and trends eventually get us all.  No longer the darling of Big Indie (indeed virtually ignored by them), Moby is free to do what he wants.  This freedom has been beneficial insomuch as I think he has made some of the most interesting music in the last decade of anyone.  This is a return to a harder sound, but Moby hedges his bets by crediting it to the fictional Choir.  Allmusic compares it to the 90s industrial scene (FLA, MLwtTKK, Consolidated), though I think it looks back further (Joy Division, New Order, even OMD) and nearer (the electroclash bands of Y2K3-6), with a certain bit of early-techno Moby for good measure.

Mudcrutch 2 (Reprise) I have always been a Tom Petty fan, and there’s no denying his run of singles, but his 2008 album by his pre-Heartbreakers band was a revelation.  Perhaps, its that there Is no expectation commercial and otherwise and Petty and co. get to once again indulge in bar rock drawing heavily from the Byrds (and Buffalo Springfield, The Band, NRBQ, etc). In any case, the first Mudcrutch album was a great start-to-finish listen.  What seemed improbable but what happened is the second album is just as good, if not better.  It boosts a bonafide FM single “Trailer” (though adult alternative stations capitalized on it, its success was relative).  But the album is just as good in its quieter moments as the Tom Leadon-led “Queen of the Go Go Girls”.  Hard to explain why (it’s almost the Heartbreakers) but well worth it.


Al Bedsitter's 20 Best Albums of 2016 (Part 1 of 3): He played it left hand, but made it too far
Allah-Las- Calico Review (Mexican Summer)- While many will say the early part of the 21st century was a high point for garage rock, I am partial to recent years. There are a lot of great bands out there that are authentic heirs to the Nuggets crown- The Golden Boys, The Growlers, Mystic Braves, and many more- not to mention reunions by the Sonics, Zombies, and Fleshtones, and near mainstream success of Ty Stegall and King Tuff. Like 2014’s Worship the Sun, this album is a bit uneven, but it’s still pretty great. Where the previous worked was definitely in line with the 1965 crowd, like the Mystic braves, these guys have transitioned to ’67, as if they heard Sgt Pepper’s, Forever Changes and the Velvet Underground for the first time. At times, they nail the Velvets sound, while “Famous Phone Figure” would make Colin Moulding jealous he didn’t write it first.

Banks and Steelz
Anything but Words (Warner Bros)– 2016 was a good year for some odd pairings. While I never enjoyed the Wu Tang Clan to the extent most indie fans did, I did appreciate few could make a soundscape like RZA. Here RZA aka Bobby Digital aka Bobby Steelz teams with the often underappreciated Interpol frontman Paul Banks. Debut single “Love and War” slammed like Run the Jewels. The question of course was the rest of the album as good and would it bear repeated listenings. The answers to both questions are yes. ABW is a strong album of the year contender. There’s an all-star guest list of rappers who lay rhymes over Banks’ plaintive sound; which means even with all of its differences, it’s hard not to compare to the Gorillaz. Still, top of the class.

David Bowie Blackstar (ISO)- Given the circumstances of the release, it’s hard to offer any criticism. Indeed, this is one of the most well-loved albums of the year. I will probably make no friends by offering a word of dissent, but I don’t think it is a five star album. Of course, my problem lies more with Big Indie (Pitchfork, AV Club, DiS, CoS, Spin, Quietus, etc). Upon Bowie’s death, it was immediately proclaimed that this was his masterpiece, and The Next Day wasn’t so good after all. Which is what I have a problem with. Bowie has had a solid record the last 20 years, and even though he has had some missteps in his career, there are only really a few. To me, this album reminds me of what Bowie was doing in the mid-90s. I will say it certainly is more consistent than those releases, but I don’t think it towers over his recent output. Which isn’t saying this isn’t wonderful (It is), but that his other recent albums have been quite good.

Tracy Bryant Subterranean(Burger Records)- Again, my problem is with Big Indie is that they spend time promoting Beyonce and Taylor Swift when they should really be finding artists like this. Bryant is the lead singer of Corners, a band I was not familiar with, but deals in this kind of garage and psychedelic music. This record is fantastic- more modern (a la Ty Segall) than Allah Las- style nostalgic. Allmusic compares him to the Cramps which wasn’t the first band I thought of, but does drive the point hime that if you love reverb, you should check out this great record.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree (Bad Seeds Ltd) – Like Bowie’s record, this one is hard to separate from the tragedy (the death of his 15 year old son) , still I will try to stick to reviewing the record. Cave has been so consistently great over the years that it’s hard to compare this album to the discography and recent work. I would say better than his last, but less good than the prior to. It’s almost hard to say when this would be a defining work in anyone else’s catalogue. Cave, Warren Ellis and longtime producer Nick Launay have made an album that is sounds so intimate, it’s almost disturbingly so. For me, I prefer Cave with the traditional rock fourpiece sound of the Blixa Bargeld/Mick Harvey days to the Ellis soundscapes, but no doubt this is a good album.

Colvin and Earle
s/t (Fantasy) –Maybe not an obvious pairing, but what a great duo. I always wonder what Steve Earle is going to do next, and he always keeps you guessing. The two advertise this project as more Crosby Stills and Nash than Conway & Loretta, and it indeed is a fine folk album. Everything about the record is so well done that it almost sounds like it is all covers. (It is mostly originals, though the expanded edition includes a necessary cover of the Beatles “Baby in Black” as well as one standard from both artists career). This is one of those albums that Big Indie would never deem ‘important’, and it really isn’t much more than two friends playing songs they love, but what a great end to end listen, that I am sure I will still be listening to(in parts if not full) ten years from now.

Dinosaur Jr
Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (Jagjaguwar)- What’s more improbable- that J, Lou and Murph have stuck together a decade since reuniting or that four albums in, they seem to make it all so effortless. It’s as if they have never stopped, and as much as I doted on their last album, it’s possible that this is even better. The gut reaction might be that it should be obvious that any time this band plugs in, a near classic will be made, but if that’s true, then why can’t the Pixies (and others) do it. It’s a Dinosaur Jr record, so I don’t know what else I can add, but they’re still going strong. It would seem ludicrous to consider that they are better now than they were in their heyday, but it’s also quite possible.


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