It’s been a while since I’ve written any sort of music-themed year-end wrap-up (three hyphenated words in a row!), but I’ve really enjoyed a lot of new music this year, so I thought I’d share. In alphabetical order, here are my favorite albums of this year.
Tom Baker Quartet: Look What I Found
It’s rare that a new jazz album catches my ear any more, but when I got Tom Baker’s CD to review for ADDreviews, I was blown away. It’s an abstract, avant-garde jazz album–post-contemporary jazz, if you wish–but is so perfectly restrained that it’s actually accessible to those who don’t normally go for that sort of thing. Silence between phrases take front stage, thanks to the subtle interplay between musicians. I love it.
Choice track: "Family of Four"
It’s even more rare that a new blues album catches my ear. Let me tell you, though, that this one isn’t just the blues album of the year, it’s the Album of the Year. Period, end of story.
Brownbird is a "straight-edge, vegan, Chicano purveying traditional acoustic blues music." And he’s probably the only one. The music is full of heart. You can feel your soul rattle when he hits his first note. To top it off, to get a more authentic, classic blues sound, he used vintage mics and recording equipment, as he described in an interview I did with him earlier this month:
In the late 40’s Ampex created the first 1-track home recorder. It was a bulky small dishwasher sized wonder that allowed a user to demo out tracks without having to enter a studio.
This is the machine I used.
I split the one track to two 30’s Era Model 55 Shure Unidynes by using a 2-dollar Radio Shack splitter and some electrical tape.
I recorded live in a rehearsal room designed for opera (read: natural reverb) and did everything live (obviously sans overdubs). Because the recordings themselves could not be set to level afterwards (as there is little more than volume) each Microphone had to be strategically placed to fit each songs vocal and guitar specifications. Since I did not have an engineer (or anybody’s help at all) I had to cut a track and meticulously listen to the play back to ensure that everything was near perfect as there was (and is) no way to change the tracks afterward.
Finally the tracks were transferred to CD without the use of digital manipulation and mastered to industry standard from the original transfer CD.
Choice track: "Stranger Here Blues"
Jazz Addixx: Oxygen Refreshed
It was awesome to see two friends of mine–Mudd, who I’ve known since 1994 and Ragz, who I’ve known since 2000–get signed to a record deal with Domination Recordings. This updating of their self-released Oxygen album is phenomenal from beginning to end. Not only does Mudd remain one of the best under-the-radar emcees on the planet, he’s a monster behind the MPC as well. Throw in Ragz’s insane cuts and you have yourself a modern hip-hop classic in the vein of A Tribe Called Quest in their prime.
Choice track: "Dope"
Jerseyband: Jerseyband Live: Lung Punch Fantasy
Random gimmicks like "lungcore" (metal with a horn section) are typically interesting to me the first time around, but don’t stand up well to repeated listening. Jerseyband, inventor of the phrase and concept behind Lungcore, though, is the rare exception. Their 2007 live album is an intense kick in the nads that will manage to take everything you’d expect from a metal band and turn it on its side. "Sangwich" is a good example of what I love about this album (check it out here). The track starts off with guttural screams, drops into an upbeat ska horn riff, slows down into an almost holiday-sounding melody, moves into some jazz elements, then closes out with some more ska and driving metal guitars. I truly cannot compare it to anything else I’ve ever heard.
Extra bonus: these guys have an awesome Christmas album, too.
Choice track: "Sangwich"
Eric McKeown: Sing You Sinners
I first heard Erin McKeown on NPR early this year when they played her super-fun take on the standard "Get Happy." Her album, mostly interpretations of standards, is so fresh and original, it can’t even be lumped into the "covers of standards" category. She’s got a great voice, great enthusiasm, has a degree in ethnomusicology from Brown, and is from Fredericksburg. What else do you need?
Choice track: "Get Happy"
Chris Read: The Diary (The World’s Greatest Rap Megamix)
Holy. Crap. An 80-minute chronological hip-hop megamix with–hold your breath now–over 800 records in the mix. This is an amazing, amazing accomplishment and a true masterpiece. I’ll be posting a full review in the next few days.
It’s free. Go download it unless you hate great things.
Sage Francis: Human the Death Dance
Sage keeps on impressing with my favorite release of his since Hope. Love the guitar, lyrics, and hook on "Got Up This Morning" and the old school references on "Underground for Dummies." Also, his was the only live show I saw this year (hi, Corey!).
Choice track: "Got Up This Morning"
Archie Shepp: Gemini
While I’ve enjoyed some of Shepp’s new millennial output, I enjoyed Gemini more than
I expected. The first disc of this two-disc set kicks off with a kind of awkward duet with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, but then comes a 10 1/2 version of "Mama Rose," a Shepp standard. I hesitated a bit adding this to the list since to me, if Shepp’s not coming with the 60’s fire, it’s missing something, but the whole package is solid enough I decided to leave it in.
Choice track: "The Reversal"
Ticklah: Ticklah vs. Axelrod
Dub has been reborn thanks to this member of the Easy Star All-Stars. Full of heavy, heavy dub and classy Afro-beat crossovers, Victor Axelrod plays keys, drums, bass, and guitars on this gem of a release. Guest vocalists include Rob Symeonn, Mikey General, and Mayra Vega.
Dub just keeps getting wiser.
Choice track: "Pork Eater (feat. Rob Symeonn)
If you feel like checking out all of the choice tracks above, give this l’il end-of-the-year mix a listen (it starts quietly):
And now, some noteworthy albums that are worth mentioning but didn’t make my favorites list.
DJ Paul C mixes
DJ Paul C is a New York City drum-n-bass legend. I was first introduced to him 1997 when I picked up a cassette copy of the Manhattan Calling mix from Breakbeat Science. It was a brilliant blend of dark dnb and found constant rotation in my deck for a number of years. I was happy to see that not only has he made that mix available for free as an MP3, he has a bunch of new mixes from this year posted as well. I love his selection of tunes and it makes me realize that the mid-to-late-90s dnb scene’s vibrancy lives on.
Fjord Rowboat: Saved The Compliments For Morning
"Canadian shoegaze" that almost completely goes against my normal listening pattern, Fjord Rowboat didn’t strike me as amazing the first time through, save for the super-catchy-downer "Shootin’ the Breeze," but I suspect this is an album that may grow on me like a fungus.
Hyphen One: The First Letter
He may not be the next coming of Wise Intelligent, but damned if this NJ head didn’t put together a solid album. Some tracks felt out of place ("Brothers In Christ"), but tracks like the graf-themed "Shit House Art" and "Plus One" featuring Pacewon are well worth checking.
KRS-One and Marley Marl: Hip-Hop Lives
Not a super album by any stretch, but the symbolic nature of these two working together after the famous "Bridge Wars" makes this one worth of mention. Be sure to check out the video for "Hip-Hop Lives."
From the always awesome Public Eyesore, this album was released on a 3" CD and the 16 tracks span only eight minutes. It’s noisy, obnoxious, and a complete disaster. I love it. (Recorded in 2004, but released in 2007… I think.)
Statik Selektah: Spell My Name Right
21 tracks with about three times as many guests, this compilation has many ups and downs. The ups, though, are way up: like Big Shug’s "Punch Out" whose brilliant beat is based on the old Nintendo "Punch Out" theme and "Express Yourself 08" featuring Termanology, Talib Kweli, and Consequence, which culminates in a very different track than NWA’s original.
X Clan: Return from Mecca
A packed album from the eternally underrated Brother J (Professor X had no involvement with this before his death, as far as I can tell) that stuffs in some duds ("Positrons," "Mecca") amongst some real gems ("Weapon X," "Speak the Truth (feat. KRS-One)," and "To the East (feat. Abstract Rude and YZ)").